Rule one of flightline management was to not treat the Crew Chiefs poorly. This group is used to working in crappy conditions, missing lunches, and never getting ahead and basically have nothing to lose. So when new managers would come aboard and try to overwork them even more, they would get their revenge. Something that typically took 4 hours could easily take 16. Crew Chiefs are willing to use their experience and gifts to get things done by the book while overlapping tasks. It takes years to cultivate this; however, when someone treats them bad, they get “nervous” and do each task separately. This is a minor example of what poorly treated people can do. Take the time to seek your team’s feedback and listen. They don’t want you to fail.
Tis the season. The holidays are upon us as are the SSgt SCOD EPRs. One of the most frequent questions we are asked during this time frame is how can push our SSgts higher on the list for Forced Distribution? I think the better question is how should a SSgt EPR read?
To be clear: I am not talking solely about making people look good on paper. I am suggesting that we need to be developing our members throughout the year and capture their efforts on paper. I am not a fan of “inflating” our teammates for the sake of EPRs.
The greatest piece of Air Force literature still remains to be the 36-2618 (Enlisted Force Structure). This book has been about 90% accurate for every new rank I have made and has provided me guidance on what to strive for when my supervisors did not. In there, it discusses what a SSgt “should” look like. They “are primarily highly skilled technicians with supervisory and training responsibilities.” This quickly read statement holds the keys to being a good SSgt.
Highly skilled technician: know your job. SSgts should be able to do their job with no one looking over their shoulders. No one should be coming behind them to fix their mistakes. They are trusted to care for their piece of the pie.
Example: SSgt Lawrence troubleshot and fixed landing gear issue… He generated 100 missions throughout the year… etc. are all examples of this. How is the SSgt doing their job well? Bullets showing job skills are often “me” focused.
Supervisory responsibilities: Typically, this is where you are a first-time supervisor with some Airmen to shepherd. You have CDCs to track, EPRs to write, feedbacks to perform, dorm inspection fails, and all of the other supervisory challenges that come with this new role.
Example: SSgt Lawrence challenged Airman X to get an 85% on CDCs… He led a volunteer clean-up event… These bullets usually show one-on-one leadership impacts or small team efforts.
Training responsibilities: Teach new Airmen and newly assigned teammates how to do their jobs. Also, teaching your subordinates how to be in the service.
Example: SSgt Lawrence trained 5 Airmen on 200 core tasks… He became the unit CPR instructor… Again, these are one-on-one or small team efforts.
A good SSgt EPR shows a mixture of all three of these things.
Now to take this up a notch to develop great SSgts, you need to show how they are ready for the next stripe. TSgts are the “organization’s technical experts.” This is a detail often overlooked as most SSgts are so skilled, they assume they are the technical experts already. I see this all the time as they say, “I am an expert, I can do that task in half the time of my peers.” That is the definition of highly skilled.
Technical expertise is when you know your job so well that you are solving problems. “Noticed trend of #4 main tires being changed out-of-cycle. Discovered factory bolt installed backwards on all block 11 aircraft.” A different way to say this is that highly skilled technicians are hands-on experts and technical experts are able to connect the dots of a bigger picture based on their skills.
Work to develop your SSgts to 1) be very good at being “highly skilled technicians with supervisory and training responsibilities.” as discussed above. and then 2) teach them to take a step back to see the whole picture and help them connect the dots to solve problems not to simply fix discrepancies.
As you do this, they will grow in their supervisor and trainer roles organically. You can’t solve problems without leading a team of leaders or training people on a mass scale to implement a smarter solution.
We are meant for great things. However, when the finish line of the race is designed to edify ourselves, we are missing the point. We have the gifts and talents that we do to further a cause or an ideal. We will all be pushing posies at one point, but the causes we champion will continue on. I already know you are a legend, no need to prove it to anyone else. Further someone or something and your work will live on forever.
Every single time I heard a leader tell me over the years that they have an open door policy I have wanted to laugh. I envisioned myself walking past the other three links in my chain of command and right into his or her office to express my thoughts. In my mind, I never even made it to the door. I have learned others feel the same way too.
I completely and wholeheartedly believe the leader who says the door is open and I genuinely believe they would want to help me. Many are concerned about the fallout from walking through that door and voicing a concern that hasn’t been routed through the chain with a staff summary sheet firmly affixed. This is something we need to address as leaders. I want those on my team to be able to go direct to the person who could best solve the problem for them not to be redirected.
Recently, I had an issue with my cell phone bill and called the customer service line. I knew I needed to speak to a supervisor in billing to get this charge removed from past experiences; however, I had to talk to a customer service agent who then transferred me to tech support and then to billing. From there I had to get a little rude to even get to the supervisor I wanted from the beginning who was able to fix my issue. Over 30 minutes wasted. Yet we do the same thing to our team members and wonder why they are not taking initiative to fix problems. We are simply wearing them down before they even make it to the appropriate level who can assist.
I am now that tool standing in front of my team spouting the cliche about how my door is open. However, I employ a few other methods to connect and receive feedback other than “hope” someone will have the courage to walk through my door.
1. ) Culture of trust: No matter what the issue is that is highlighted to me, I don’t punish the other links in the chain that were skipped or who couldn’t solve the problem. Look at what the issue is, not who to blame for it. Is there a way to empower or train others to solve this at their level?
2.) Anonymous feedback: I created a survey on Survey Monkey that provides an anonymous way to pass me concerns. My team can do this from home, their phone, their desk or where ever they choose and I will never know who was saying it unless they tell me. This is better than a comment box, because people have the fear they will be seen dropping the message. I have received some amazing feedback in there that has pointed me to some simple fixes which have paid dividends.
3.) Walk through your own open door: Get out of your office and go to where the work is being done in your unit. You will get to see firsthand what problems the team is facing and what struggles they have. I have been able to get ahead of so many major issues this way and it lets my team know I care. In fact, these are typically the people who end up taking advantage of my open door policy. Go figure.
What does this quote from Alexander the Great mean to you? To me, it means we have to be strong as leaders. We can’t be afraid to stand up for our team and to our team. I recently watched as a supervisor chastised his subordinate and then flip-flopped when he got push-back. If he could not even stand firm with his troop, how in the world is he expected to stand firm when talking to someone higher in the food chain than himself. Being a lion means we have to protect the team and also ensure we are handling issues on the team too.
Many of us look at being a leader like Maximus Decimus Meridius in the movie Gladiator. We lead the charge into battle and are revered for our courage and battlefield prowess. Because of our technical abilities, we are usually promoted to positions of leadership. However, if we get into the weeds too often, we are not focused on the bigger picture and not helping the whole team. We need to be involved in the daily tasks being performed, but it is our primary job to equip our team with the proper training and resources. Equipping others to fight the battle is much more valuable than your individual efforts.
This is one of the biggest complaints I have ever heard about those of us with rank. “SNCOs look good because we work hard for them and then they forget all about us.” This kills me to think I may have given that impression and I work really hard to never do that. We are a team that needs everyone on it to be successful. Those doing the work make the mission happen. Those of us with rank are there because we have more experience and the ability to see the obstacles coming up and move them before the team gets there. People are not on our teams to service our desires…we serve each other to lift each other.
As I have gotten older my mom’s “you can be whatever you want to be” advice has taken a different meaning. I am pretty confident I will never become a brain surgeon or beat Lebron James one-on-one. There are certain jobs in the military that I would not do well in either, but I am ok with that. We don’t have to be the wing commander to have a voice or be a leader. I see new Airmen and Lieutenants leading every single day. In fact, it is these “boots-on-the-ground” leaders who are the true leaders pushing the mission with a can-do attitude. I do not need rank or authority to be a leader; I need to have strong character traits. I can’t always control ‘what’ my job will be, but I can control who I am.
I have noticed this throughout my career. Once I learn my job, I grow to complacency as I go through the motions of my day. I build controls into my day to prevent me from getting too comfortable. To do this, we could take on a challenge we know will push us harder. We can ask someone on the team to hold us accountable by looking over our work. Take a look at your daily routine and see if there are ways to stretch your abilities. If you don’t seek ways to progress, those on your team won’t either.