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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

Can You Make Rank with a Markdown?

One of the most often asked questions is about how the promotion board will view a blemish on your record. “Can I still make rank with a markdown or if I am just a ‘promote’?” Short answer is: yes.

In the new Enlisted Evaluation System, there is a fear that being just a ‘promote’ or getting a markdown will impact you in the long run. However, there is no real evidence of this from what I have seen. Now, I will qualify that a little bit further before I move on. Getting a referral EPR or other admin action for a legal issue is a much different story and you should expect that to slow your progression for a few cycles.

The old system was actually less kind with markdowns than this new one. I have many SNCO peers who received markdowns for not completing PME or their CCAF and it hurt them for the next 2 cycles AFTER they had decided to complete. A markdown on the EPR seemed to be a message to the board from a secret decoder ring for them to dig deeper. Apparently, it worked because I don’t know a single person who made SMSgt without Course 14 or a CCAF. And those who had received anything other than a 5 were looked over for special opportunities and promotions.

Nowadays, this guidance actually removes the stigma that there needs to be a firewall evaluation and since the majority of the force receives a ‘promote’, this is no longer a red flag. Those SNCOs who receive a stratification from their wing commander or one of the top two ratings from the forced distribution process are looked at more favorably and have a high probability of making the next rank. In my opinion, this is how it should work and the commanders finally get a chance to push their top performers a little harder. Of course, there is a debate of whether the REAL top performers are being noticed, but that is a different discussion (read this article about a simple fix units could do to help this).

What is most important in order to make rank now is what is actually on your EPR and the truth is most people are hurting themselves. Everyone is so concerned with getting stratted or a ‘promote now’ that they lose focus. To me it is as if people are trying to throw a knock out punch every time they swing or jumping on ancillary projects or volunteer events or education as if they are lottery tickets. We are looking for the ‘get rich quick’ thing to get us the advantage over our peers. This is the wrong approach.

We need to focus on filling up the year with sustained performance, rather than just a potential home run event. When I review EPRs for my team of 50, I noticed a very clear distinction between those who kept track of what they did all year and those who wrote their EPR the day before it was due. It had nothing to do with how good of a writer they were, but everything to do with the fact there was no substance. You had a couple big events on there that they somehow were involved with, some basic stuff that is expected, and then they would one-up their previous EPR. For example, last year they launched 12 missions; this year they use the same bullet, word-for-word, except now they launched 15 missions. This is a red flag to me to dig deeper into their actual performance for the year.

Start the year with a picture of what you would like to accomplish and work towards that. Later in my career I learned to do this during my feedbacks with team members and together we would create our finish line and even define some of the milestones needed to get there. It is important to have a clear picture of what you hope to accomplish because it will drive you to do things that matter instead of just busy work or chasing volunteer ops. Keep taking steps to get to that finish line and stop worrying about what those around you are doing. Keeping up with the Jones’ is not the strategy you want if you want to have a fulfilling career.

Then, to make yourself stand out to your supervision, keep track of what you do all year long. I always keep a draft EPR or 1206 on my desktop (or in a draft email if you don’t have your own computer at work). When I did something interesting, I would make a note of this at the end of the shift. Then I would monitor how this played out and looked for the impact of this action. Sometimes it turned into something pretty interesting and sometimes it was nothing. Either way, I would update my draft with the result. This is also how you get rid of those amazing bullets about how you saved the world and the impact is “improved morale” or “strengthened leadership toolset.”

Doing these things, may still not get you a promotion statement; however, they will paint a picture to your supervision that you are someone who consistently adds value. I am a firm believer that you can’t hide talent. If you are doing the right things all the time, eventually the right person will notice and you will be taken care of.

As a postscript to this article, I am anticipating the question of whether this actually works. Well, it worked for me: How I accidentally made SMSgt

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Daily Deliberation: 15 July 2018

Being a leader is not about getting a fancy duty title or fringe benefits. The 1950’s model of leadership was to have the minions serve the boss. They would run in front of him and remove the obstacles in his path, they would lay their jackets over the mud hole so his boots wouldn’t lose their luster. That is an archaic view and completely opposite of what a leader is. A leader should be looking for and destroying the obstacles in the paths of his team members so they can do amazing things for the organization. When this happens, there are hordes of people achieving goals for the team not multiple people serving the whims of one person.

Daily Deliberation: 14 July 2018

I always used to laugh when people would say the smartest person in the room is the one who asks the most questions. I would instantly think of all the commander calls where the wing commander would be asked about why the eggs were “tepid” at the chow hall. I thought, “no, the one who asks the most questions is the most annoying one.” It is about those who ask questions that further the conversation and clarify something others may want to know. Ask questions that matter and be willing to look the fool.

 

Daily Deliberation: 13 July 2018

We are horrible managers of our own time. Case and point, we have no problem staying up just five or ten minutes longer to do something seemingly useless like scroll our phones or watch a fidget spinner infomercial. Then we fight the alarm clock the next morning because we are too tired to wake up. And that is how we start our day. If we look at the other areas of our lives, we will find a similar pattern. A time waste here prevents something else there. Look for those lost minutes in your day and spend them on something that matters to you.

Daily Deliberation: 12 July 2018

Why do vegetables taste worse than candy? I have wondered my whole life why the hardest thing to do is often the best…like eating vegetables in lieu of candy. I am not sure of the reason for this, but we all know it is better to do the hard things over the easy things most of the time. Don’t let fear or laziness hold you back; just go out there and make it happen.

Daily Deliberation: 11 July 2018

There is a saying in politics that goes something like, “never waste a good crisis.” When something big happens, these leaders are looking for ways to make things better. For example, WWII led to the creation of the UN. If it hadn’t been for that, the UN may have never been. When things are falling apart, look for the one thing you can do to make something better. Does anyone have an example of a time they did this or saw it in action?

Daily Deliberation: 10 July 2018

One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was from a martial arts instructor. This man was very talented, a proven champion, high-ranking and the owner of the school. However, he never referred to any of the students as “students.” We were fellow martial artists, workout partners, teammates, etc. He was clearly the leader of the school, but he viewed those on his team as equals; he just held the leadership role. It was such a powerful lesson in humility.

Are You Becoming a ‘Yes’ Person?

We have all seen the ‘yes-men’ and ‘yes-women’ in our organizations who seemingly can’t wait for the next proclamation from the boss so they can fawn all over how great of an idea it is and push it to the masses. I have seen this with commanders and their bosses, Chiefs, CGOs, and every other echelon. It was something I vowed to never do because it actually hurt the organization and it went against who I was raised to be.

My father raised me to be a man of character. This meant being true to who I was and standing up for those around me. This started off as helping others in need and later morphed into being a voice for the airman doing the work at the ground level. It means telling the group commander that you do not agree with the latest plan and “here’s why.” Taking this approach is very likely to anger several people and create short-term stress; however, it is not about our comfort as a leader, it is about taking care of those who make the mission happen.

While reviewing the latest revision of the enlisted force structure, I am reminded of two excerpts I like to mentor SNCOs and NCOs on whom surround me. They are 4.6.2: translate leaders’ direction into specific tasks and responsibilities their teams understand and execute. and 4.6.3: Help leaders make informed decisions. These two areas go hand-in-hand although I wish they were in reverse order. Very often, the boss mentions a problem in our area of responsibility and some offer the answer we think they want to hear or some hem and haw their way around the issue. This is when the boss decides something needs to be done and offers us the plan on how to fix our team’s issue. We back them into a corner and force their hand. They are simply choosing what they think has the highest probability of success based on their perspective and experience. Most of the time, this is the checklist that monitors other checklists, or the other pain in the butt process our team has to endure.

Whenever I see one of these “solutions”, I know someone failed the boss. This isn’t done out of spite, but because WE failed our team. We are placed in leadership positions because we are trusted to lead. We should know better than our boss the struggles our teams face. We should be bringing our plan to the boss that will get to the root of the issue and allow them to make that “informed decision” moving forward. I was once taught the importance of thinking about the 2nd and 3rd order effects of the decisions I make. As we gain rank and become further removed from those doing the work, we need to really think about how our decisions will trickle down and what workload they will create. Too often, we are only thinking about how the decision will affect our workload.

We need to do our part and really dig. I was in charge during an inspection where we took several minor discrepancies. My boss wanted it fixed and now. I could have succumbed to the pressure and created micro-solutions to each issue. “A checklist to review x” only solves that problem right now. In 6 months a similar issue will occur and we will wonder what happened to the checklist. Then we create a checklist to ensure the checklist was completed (true story). Rather, those who surround me dug in deeper and realized a root cause tying most of those write-ups together. This was the fix I pitched to the boss and it appears to have fixed the issue.

What to do when a bad decision is looming? One of the greatest pieces of advice I have received here is to exercise the ‘two but sirs (or ma’ams)’. When I am told of a decision that will impact my team: “but sir, this is going to impact my team by xxx.” If they come back and say they still want to do it, the second but comes out: “but sir, we are stretched thin on these other priorities and the resources are not available.” If he or she still wants to press forward, we get on the same page and follow the direction in paragraph 4.6.2:¬†translate leaders’ direction into specific tasks and responsibilities their teams understand and execute.

Our jobs are not to make our boss’ lives difficult or to argue every decision. We are to be the voice of those entrusted to us and help our boss come up with the best decision.

Daily Deliberation: 8 July 2018

“I can’t do that right now.” How many times a day do we say this to our team or to our families? It saddens me to think about all the times I put off time with my kids for something that doesn’t matter in the long run. “After I reorganize this sock drawer, I will play catch with you.” My sock drawer isn’t going anywhere, but my boy will eventually leave home. We do the same thing to those we work with. That mountain of emails will be there tomorrow and even if we clean out our tasker list, it will come back. Take the time to invest in your team first and then alphabetize your socks.

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