Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

After the Air Force: Career Planning

A few years back I had applied for the TERA (15-year retirement) program the Air Force was offering in order to draw down the force. The numbers did not work in my favor and I was not selected, but I learned a valuable lesson: I was not as marketable as I thought!

With the experience I have had and my level of education, I was expecting employers to line up and start a bidding war over who was worthy to have me on their team. This did not happen and, in fact, I learned I lacked the minimum requirements to even apply to some of the positions I wanted. After I took a step back and allowed for a moment of self-reflection and clarity, I discovered I had prepared myself for what I had imagined others wanted instead of actually was required for particular jobs.

For example, I was looking at a job to become an Operations Manager at a manufacturer in the local area. I blew all of the basic qualifications out of the water and was probably a touch over-qualified in some areas…except for experience writing SQL queries. This position required documented experience in SQL to even apply. So, a job I could have been very good at, was not even an option for me anymore.

The good news is all that you need to know in order to prepare for your dream job is very easily accessible. There is an easy fix for this and it involves Google and foresight. If you have a good idea of what you want to be when you grow up, search for jobs. Read the descriptions from various companies and then seek ways to become qualified in those areas. Here is the job description I described above:

Operations Manager Job Description
Operations Manager Job Description

We need to do this before we are actually looking for a job. Then it is too late to get 5+ years experience, or a SQL certificate. Instead of focusing on the things I thought would make me more marketable in this area like a Six Sigma cert, I could have applied my resources where they needed to be.

One other pitfall we fall prey to is not thinking about where we will be in life when we decide to move on. For example, many maintainers I have worked with over the years said they wanted to use all of their maintenance experience and work for a civilian airliner. What they didn’t consider at 18 was that when they retired at age 38, they wouldn’t really want to be toting tool boxes and crawling in landing gear like an 18-year old.

Instead, look at those who are about to retire and look at what type of managerial role they have and how it could translate to the real world. Then plan to prepare yourself for where you will most likely be in life at that point. Instead of banking on manual labor, are you going to be looking at management jobs? Then check the boxes for that job.

Thankfully, I was denied TERA and it allowed me to learn these lessons in time to prepare for my 20-year retirement and the future career I want. Please, learn from my potential misstep.

Importance of SNCOs Mentoring Officers

“Why are you putting this LT with me?” is a question I have heard in various forms from fellow SNCOs. To be honest, I have asked this question before too. It took some time at the SNCOA to truly appreciate the importance of my time with officers.

We have all read in the little brown book (AFI 36-2618) and have seen the excerpt about working with and developing officers by sharing our knowledge and experience. However, what does this really mean? I used to think it meant we were to be “advisers” for job related questions and to offer insight into the complex inner workings of the enlisted mind. This somewhat confused me, because I always thought the best way to get the most relevant job-related info or to get a true pulse for the Airmen was to talk to the SSgts and TSgts. But the little brown book doesn’t mention officer development until the SNCO tier (par 5.1.8.). Why?

While at the SNCOA it finally clicked. The entire class of SNCOs gets bused to the officer’s first PME known as SOS. This is a school filled with captains from all over the AF. Every SNCOA class goes there to discuss whatever topics they choose. We were tasked with enlisted development and broken up into small groups. I learned from them that they do not receive much education or training in this area at all from their superiors. Most of what they learn is from their peers or us.

This quickly caused me to flashback to all those times I had a new LT shadowing me and I was more concerned with finding something shiny for him to go play with rather than taking the time to teach. If you think about it, young CGOs are always paired with a SNCO. This is because they are thrust into positions where they have similar or even more authority than a SNCO, but without the experience.

Think about most MSgts you know. On average it took him or her at least 12 years to earn that stripe and even longer for SMSgts and Chiefs. That is 12 plus years of learning their trade, cultural norms, what it takes to be successful in the career field and they have had some trials and errors in how to lead those rising through the ranks. Now, imagine being brand new off of the street and trying to run a shop without any of that knowledge or experience. It would be a nightmare!

That is exactly what our young officers are thrust into and then those who can actually help them learn are focusing on how to ditch them. Rather, we need to be taking advantage of the opportunity being provided to us and set them up for success. They are the ones who will be creating the policies our teams will be bound by in the future.

Almost every time I speak with a senior officer, I ask them how I can be a better mentor to the CGOs in my organization. I have spoken to countless Colonels and even a couple of 1- and 2-star Generals on the topic. All have given the same advice: help them learn their trade and don’t make decisions in a bubble.

Help them learn their trade: Are they an intel, maintenance, personnel, finance, etc? Teach them how what the role of each person on the team is. Show them how the process works and show them how to find the pulse of the organization. Have them go to nightshift and do some dirty work for awhile so they can see what the Airmen are going through. What are the things you look for on a daily/weekly basis that determine how the team is functioning and morale is intact? Show them.

Don’t make decisions in a bubble: This is as simple as sharing the thought process you are using to solve a problem. Instead of doing all the leg-work and creating a plan in your head on your own, think out loud. We place a lot of thought into our decisions, but it appears to be voodoo to young officers when it seems like we make our choice, especially on tough decisions that require some navigation through the grey. There is a lot of value in sharing why we don’t jump on the obvious solution that would solve the problem, but impact those with boots on the ground and that is why you chose X instead of Z.

When we take the time to teach our officer corps the lessons we have learned, we are investing in the future of our teams.

To DSD or not to DSD, That is the Question

air_force_air_education_and_training_command_instructor_badge_mirror_finish_7131_2_5de06024-2010-4cb9-8e7b-b30786aed532_1024x1024The Developmental Special Duty (DSD) selection cycle is upon us yet again. There are many fears and hopes associated with the possibilities of being selected. Speaking from someone who held one of these positions in the past and as a current field training detachment chief, I would like to share some of my experiences.

Last week, our Career Adviser put together a briefing for those who are interested in the process and what each of the 10 DSD career fields had to offer. He had representation for all 10 career fields and I was fortunate enough to be able to speak about my experiences as a tech school instructor. Ironically, all of us had very similar experiences before, during and after our tour in the DSD.

The general theme was that everyone had reservations about getting outside of their comfort zones to do something completely different from their peers in their primary AFSC. However, once they got into that environment and saw the impact they could have on another’s life and career, they were excited. And afterwards, they were much better prepared to do great things once they returned to their primary career field.

My personal experience as a tech school instructor was from 2004-2008 at the field training detachment in Charleston. Then we had to compete for instructor slots and interview with detachment leadership. They chose who they thought would be the best fit for their teams. Our force was mainly voluntary with the exception of a few non-vols. All of the instructors had to learn how to teach and we all had additional duties running major programs for the unit. We were trusted to manage our own schedules and it forced us to become good at time and task management.

I went from barely being able to manage my daily schedule to being able to manage the monthly schedule of my 8-member team with relative ease. This alone was an amazing skill to carry with me back to my career field. Not to mention, all of the presentation skills I had learned, the amazing people I had rubbed elbows with over the years, and confidence knowing I could take on something outside of my comfort zone and do well with it.

Another huge difference from then and now is the perception from leaders in the units about those filling a DSD slot. When I came back to the flightline, I was accused of “being on vacation” for the past four years and I should expect the first deployment that drops. Nowadays, that has changed as most units have someone in senior leadership who was a previous DSD person and recognizes the value of the returning member.

Also, I do not have any official stats to back this up, but most of these people do very well with forced distribution when they return. Some of this is because they usually return with a CCAF in their primary career field and a second on in the DSD field. Most of it I suspect is from the feedback I receive on a routine basis from units where my instructors return to about how awesome they are. I wish I could claim some credit for this, but the truth is, they have just spent four years with others who are working their butts off and trying to improve themselves. This is contagious and takes on the “iron sharpens iron” feel. By the time they leave, they have mastered the management of their own lives.

If you are fortunate enough to be selected by your commander for vectoring into one of these positions, you should feel honored. This means your leadership sees you as a leader of others and sees some potential in you that you might not see. Out of the 15 DSD slots at our detachment there are about five who were chosen without volunteering. They all love their new gigs and one person actually separated after his time to pursue teaching.

If you are selected by your leadership, feel honored. If you are fortunate enough to choose whether to be vectored or not, choose DSD. It was the one job that set me up better for my career than any other.


Secret to Success: Train Up, Train Down

Here is a concept I adopted a long time ago: Train Up, Train Down. I really wish I could remember where the idea came from, although I am certain I simplified it into this phrase as a teen while training in martial arts. The concept is really quite simple in practice; you train to learn what those above you know and you pass down what you know to those below you.

In the martial arts world, wisdom and techniques have lived on for thousands of years utilizing this principle. There are very clear lines of delineation in terms of rank that make it easy to see who the higher ranking and more advanced practitioners are. You know what belt you are and the belt you want to be and then you learn what is required to attain the belt and train until you know it. Then you take what you have been taught to get your current belt and teach it to those behind you. Very simple and effective construct.

This works in most areas of life still today. The difference is that is not always clear who is ahead or behind. Sure, there is the boss and those in command at the top but they are not necessarily the functional experts in the area you are trying to grow. The boss should be the expert at helping the team work together towards a goal. He or she does not need to know how to do your job to make this happen; they just need to know how to set you up to succeed.

So then, how do you find the person above you? The student-teacher relationship is not defined in the real world. Once we are effective in our jobs, we rarely have a trainer take us through tasks. It is now up to us to do this. If you want to be better at something, it is up to you to grow in that area. We have to accept responsibility for our own paths and take the initiative to become better in our craft.

The way we do this is taking an honest assessment of our own abilities. Then we need to look at those who are more successful than us in that area. For me, time management has been a constant revolving door. It is an area I have been striving to improve upon for many years now and I am always on the lookout for someone or some product that could aid me in this endeavor. When I see an opportunity to grow into a better time manager, I ask the person how they do certain tasks, I read reviews about the product, etc.

It is usually very easy for us to spot those doing something better than us. It is not always as easy to spot those who are trailing behind. However, when we take a step back we can see those in our organization who are making or are about to make the same mistake we have made at one point. Pull him aside and ask if you can offer a piece of advice. I find most of the time people are all ears especially when they are trying to dust themselves off after taking a tumble.

We get better by aspiring to be like those who are better than us in certain areas. We become better by humbling ourselves to learn and practice their teachings. We continue a legacy when we teach others the lessons we have learned. Train Up and Train Down.

Read More Books Starting Today

bookMy whole life I have valued the benefits of reading. Although, I am such a slow reader, I never really wanted to invest the time it took me to read a book. I would read maybe a book a year into adulthood and this is something I always “wanted” to overcome, but never placed any energy into it. Thankfully, I have finally kicked myself in the butt and stopped making excuses.

I have never met anyone who has stated they wish they read less or there is no value in reading. All of the complaints have always been the time constraint and how there is never enough time to enjoy a book or the other big one is finding a book that is “worth” the time commitment it takes to read. I can sympathize with both complaints and still hear those voices within my own mind. There are a couple of solutions.

The easiest solution to solving this is to take advantage of your current schedule. Maybe you have a 15 minute or longer commute each day. Audiobooks are a great way to consume books. You can get them for free at a library (they do still exist…so I am told) or download them onto your phone. I have recently learned that Amazon has an unlimited source for audiobooks and ebooks for a small monthly fee called KindleUnlimited and it looks very promising. Audiobooks also help to pass the time while going on a run. I would rather listen to a book than think about how much I hate running. A lot of people love audiobooks and just as many hate them. Regardless, they are worth looking into.

I still occasionally enjoy an audiobook, but I have recently taken a more studious approach to reading and prefer ebooks or hardcopy products. Finding time to sit down and read is not as easy, but you will be surprised when you really look at the time you have each day. For instance, I discovered I was reading a lot of news articles or random posts others shared on Facebook or some other source. It didn’t take long to realize a lot of the big news companies and info blogs were allowing anyone post stuff and if you really dig into the person or source they were clearly biased and many were peddling a product or service. When I replaced this time with an ebook break, I was able to get through several pages in the same amount of time and actually learn something interesting.

Another habit my family adopted is to instill healthy reading habits in our children. Every night, we spend 20-30 minutes reading on our own before bedtime. What started off as me trying to lead by example became something we all look forward to each night. This can work for you too. Pick a time out of the day you can control and make it a time to read. You will be amazed at how much ground you can cover dedicating a few moments each day.

The other complaint is about finding a good book. This is a little bit tougher, because we all have our own personal preferences. Some people prefer fiction over non-fiction and vice versa. Some like short stories, some like bios, some like novels and on and on and on. Walking into a book store like Barnes and Noble is somewhat daunting because there are too many choices and unless you know exactly what you want, it is tough. And if you know exactly what you want, the book is probably a lot cheaper on Amazon. So, what do you do?

What types of articles tend to grab your attention? Is there an author or website you gravitate towards? The reason why I am asking is because most websites or authors share books they like. For example here on Deliberate Development, I have listed several I enjoy. If someone who we like to hear from likes a certain book, the odds are we will too. If they don’t have a list posted, email them and ask. Then take their suggestion and preview a few pages at a bookstore or online to see if the tone and message are right for you.

The benefits of reading on our mind are the same as that of fitness on our body. When we do it often, we can really notice the results. Mark Twain is credited as saying, “Those who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t read.”

Have a favorite book? Share it in the comments, in our Facebook group or email me directly and I will add it to our list.

What Should be on a TSgt’s EPR?

One of the most frequent questions I get as the senior enlisted leader in my unit is how an EPR should read. I love getting this question because it means people are looking out for their subordinate or doing their best to improve themselves. For this article I will go into how I think a TSgt EPR should read.

First of all, I don’t think most people ask this in order to game the system and fabricate bullets that do not exist. Rather, they are often trying to find the result from the task that would best set their teammate up for success.

Now, an EPR should not be written to meet the suspense. It should be written all year long and then tweaked to perfection to meet the suspense. If we wait to capture our accomplishments until then, it shows.

Most of what I say is based off of the Little Brown Book (AFI 36-2618, par 4.2.2.) but is often overlooked. Let’s face it, the brown book is a great resource for showing us what to expect as we progress. In the paragraph referenced, it says Technical Sergeants are often the technical experts who are growing as technicians, supervisors, and resource managers. So, we need to actualize this on their EPRs.

Technicians: Look for ways to showcase their expertise. Show how they solved a problem no one else could. Did they re-invent the wheel and remove wasteful steps from the guidance. Their impacts should not be basic and read as if they are simply doing what is expected.

Supervisors: Are they leading people? How many and to what extent? NCOIC of 10-person team who made 300 more widgets than all other teams on base, etc. Show effective leadership and then how are they taking care of their team. Are they submitting awards packages? Did 3 Airmen make BTZ under their watch? Leadership is more than just kicking down walls, it is taking care of the team. The board wants to see those who are ready to be SNCOs and taking care of the team is a great way to showcase this.

Resource Managers: TSgts are often program leaders or managing some side project in the unit. On our team, all of our members have additional duties and a program they manage. What I look for are those who are making the program better for the next person when the torch is passed. Are they improving the process and making the unit better? Anyone can ensure compliance and create a crappy tracker showing how we are “on-track”. However, it takes someone who really wants to own their program to streamline it for the next person.

I know this is not spelling out specific bullets, but the intent is to show how we should be mentoring our TSgts and how they should be looking at their EPR. When they paint themselves in the ways listed above, they will stand out among their peers to the board and to their commanders.

After Reading this, You Might Want to Unfollow Me

Over the past year, we have all seen a post on social media that starts off like this or with a “I am ready to clean up my friends list soon.” I see statements like this as pure buffoonery. Nothing more than the childhood version of ‘play my game or I am going home.’

I knew kids like this when I was 7. We had to play their game or they would go home. Even then, I thought this was the stupidest thing ever. “Well that sucks, because I am sure we could find something we all want to play.” I would advise them and then the other kids would discuss options. Usually the “un-friender” would end up joining the conversation and we would work out some compromise and play something we could all get behind. We found common ground.

It was a ridiculous tactic then and even more so now. We have somehow forgotten how to seek common ground with others. We have abandoned the ideal that it is OK to have different opinions from another. For some reason, this is a foreign concept to us now as we have grown into keyboard ninjas on social media. Stuff we would not say in person spews onto our posts or the comments of others. It is rather insane to me.

The latest thing that has me scratching my head is Uber CEO’s, Travis Kalanick, decision to leave the President’s business advisory council. People were campaigning to delete Uber because his presence on the council insinuated he supported the POTUS. He became afraid and left. It is hard for me to judge him too harshly because I don’t have all the details and his responsibility is to protect his employees. I am judging those who put the pressure on him and the collective mindset of the masses and, ultimately, the long-term impact.

He feared the backlash and apologized to his team and customers. Then he distanced himself from the Trump administration. Personally, I would rather have a boss who had a voice in the future of business in our nation. If some regulation was about to impact Uber, he could have a voice, but now it is gone. This would be like a state saying they are no longer having their senators go to the Hill and vote on matters affecting the country. But this is somehow an acceptable mindset this day and age.

We post our opinions and feelings on social media and they are polarizing from the opening line. “If you believe Trump is good, you’re a moron.” or “If you think Trump is bad, you’re a snowflake.” Then we spread these posts like wild-fire. I am not sure why though. No one has ever read one of these articles and said, “Wow, I really am a moron. Maybe I should change my ways.” Instead, we jump into the comment section and blast the poster and continue spitting venom.

First off, we need to take the advice that has been around for ages to not discuss politics or religion in an open forum. This is age-old advice. Mark Twain (who lived in the 1800’s) once said, “in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” Bottom-line, your post about x-y-z is not going to change anyone’s thoughts or opinions. They are ingrained within.

Then there is the matter of the image you are portraying. Many employers admit they are stalking you on social media before they consider you employing you. Would you want to work with someone who spreads negativity?

My next point is more of a request. Please, stop spreading junk. Instead of calling the other side dumb, seek to understand why they feel that way if you really must discuss politics. I know that there are very smart, kind, and humble people on both sides of the aisle. If I am going to talk politics, I would prefer to hear their reasoning and not just recycled hate from news outlets that are biased.

Lastly, we are all in this together, wouldn’t it be better to seek a common ground?



Metrics Don’t Motivate

I was recently standing in a formation when the speaker said, “We met several of our key metrics…”.  Things trailed off after that because my mind wandered to other matters of the day.  While that may have motivated others in the formation of probably a few hundred people that day, I suspect it had the same effect on many others that it did on me.

Metrics, numbers, and graphs do not motivate most people, especially when they do not know what those numbers entail or what they even mean.  What matters more than a regression analysis on a batch of data with a trend line going upward is the tactile, real impacts that people can see at ground level.  Metrics are abstract and aren’t tangible things in many people’s minds.

Impacts are key.  Months ago I spoke with my subordinates at a roll call—while I was still new in my position.  One thing I noted was the environment—I recognized that my subordinates, NCOs, were in an absolutely critical position—they teach young Airmen.  I made the natural connection—their job was to interact and instruct and I noted several instances where a young Airman was left behind in the hustle and bustle of mission generation to fend for themselves.  “Mentor your students where you can,” I told them, “because when they start working on the flightline, they won’t receive such guidance.”  To this day I am uncertain as to whether my words evoked some inspiration, but I was staggered later on by the amount of initiative they took in taking their students under their wings—it continues to this day.  They take ownership and pride in the classes they teach.  It has bred innovation.

What motivates them to take such measures?  Passion.  They recognize that their involvement with the Airmen not only as technicians but as young adults and military members is critical.  They understand their impact at their level.  It’s a matter of building a relationship with a group of new military members.  They don’t just churn out 1,700 students per year through the doors of the schoolhouse; it’s more to them than that.

Don’t motivate people by showing them a slew of numbers—there is no reference point for them with metrics.  Motivate them by emotion because ultimately, that’s what motivation is.  Keep the numbers in the conference room to manage processes, not people.

Are Leaders Puppets?

The recent inauguration of our 45th President, Donald Trump, has brought about a mixture of opinions of what type of a leader he should be or the type he will be. Many say our elected officials are just puppets who should be toeing the company line and doing what the majority of the population wants. This got me thinking about the leadership culture I have seen in just about every area of our lives and I disagree 100% that a leader should be a puppet and do what the masses desire.

If we were to lead our units this way, every Friday would be a half-day. We would not do any of the menial tasks no one likes to do. And morale would sky-rocket…for a period of time. Until nothing got accomplished, the mission would falter, the need for our workcenter would be null and void and we would be living in a van down by the river. If we as a nation got everything we wanted, it would be like the scene from the movie ‘Bruce Almighty’ where everyone won the lottery and the city fell to chaos.

Routinely, I will ask my kids what they want for dinner as I am making my shopping list for the week. They are both smart, health-minded kids and neither of them has ever not included pizza or a dessert. We don’t lead our homes like this, why should we lead any team like that? If I were to simply lead by giving in to the demands of the masses, my area of responsibility would fail. Leaders are put in place through appointment or democratically because they are seen as someone who has the best interest of the people and mission in mind. We need to advance the mission and, at the same time, fulfill the legitimate ‘needs’ of the team, not just provide items on their wishlists.

We do need to listen to the masses and get a pulse for the organization. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership and we have to dig into what the constraints and needs of our team are. This involves getting into the weeds a bit to learn their struggles and what is needed to enable them to succeed. This is how leaders see the whole picture of their AOR and can make decisions for the betterment of all.

I have been part of many teams where I thought I knew what was best. I would petition to my leaders to bend to my will. I would even leverage the productivity of our team to sway their opinion as if to insinuate that we had it all figured out. Almost on every occasion, I was humbled when shown the big picture and the effects my “plan” would have on the whole organization. I am not suggesting for leaders to not question their chain-of-command, because it is important for us to let them know our concerns and things they may not have considered. I am suggesting that we strive to see the big picture and not assume the masses have the best answer.

As for President Trump, I hope he fulfills his promises of not giving in to the status quo and that he is able to listen to the masses and make decisions based on what is best for our country. I will not agree with all of his decisions and that is okay; however, no matter what he does, we all have some control over our own AORs and need to make the right (not the popular or easy) decisions to move our team forward.

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