By Chief Master Sgt. Al Christman, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
/ Published May 30, 2012
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
Help wanted: selfless individuals willing to constantly work outside their comfort zones, work for their subordinates and focus on their subordinate's promotions before their own.
Does this sound like a job you would apply for? Surprise! If you are a leader at any level in the United States Air Force, you have already applied and been hired.
Now hearing this might make you a little uncomfortable, but don't worry...that's a good thing. Getting out of your comfort zone is the first requirement for this job and is also one of the best ways to grow as a leader. When you have been in the same job doing the same tasks for a long time, you become very good at what you do and you become comfortable. You might be thinking, "What's wrong with that? I like to be comfortable."
The concern is that learning and personal growth slow as you master your job and refine your processes. On the other hand, consider times when you have been forced into unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations such as speaking in public, heading a banquet committee or leading a group of Airmen. When you take on something you have never done or are not an expert at, the entire process becomes a learning experience and you grow as an Airmen and as a leader.
If you aren't already uncomfortable enough after reading this far, consider this. Your Airmen don't work for you...you work for them! I remember being at a Chief's pin-on ceremony a few years back and hearing a Commander tell him, "As a Chief, there are only two days that are about you--your pin-on and your retirement. Every day in between is about your Airmen."
Truer words couldn't be spoken; however I would take it a step further and say that this applies to all leaders. We owe it to our subordinates to provide them with the right tools, the right equipment, and the right training.
Our job in essence is to provide an environment conducive to our Airmen's success. We should routinely ask our Airmen what we can do to make their job safer, easier and more productive. It's really as simple as asking "What can I do for you?" instead of "What can you do for me?"
As important as it is to work for your Airmen on a day-to-day basis, it's even more important to focus on their long term development.
Since being promoted to Chief, people are suddenly very interested in what I have to say, and I find myself fielding a lot of questions. The most common question I get asked is, "How do I make Chief?" My advice to these people is to ask themselves, "How do I help SOMEONE ELSE make Chief?"
Most of us know or have worked with someone who clearly was more worried about his or her next promotion than anything else. If you had the choice between working with someone like that and someone who asks, "How can I help SOMEONE ELSE make Chief?" who would you pick? Who do you think would be a better mentor?
Now, looking back on my career, I can remember many people who put me first and helped develop me into a Chief. One who stands out the most is my Qualification Training Instructor at Altus Air Force Base. It was clear from day one that my instructor was interested in my long term success and not just my success in his class.
The first day of class, he gave each student a ball bearing and told us it was our "military bearing" and to never lose it. He made sure he instilled integrity into us every day we were on the flight line and he regularly skipped lunch to help us prepare for quarterly awards and BTZ boards. If we asked questions he couldn't answer, he researched them after work and brought us the answers the next morning. In short, he was an excellent mentor.
A few years ago, I saw him for the first time in almost 20 years...at the Chief Leadership Course. He was a little surprised when I pulled the ball bearing he had given me from my pocket to show him I still had it 20 years later.
It may seem paradoxical, but when you focus on developing others, you end up developing yourself as well. When you are pushing others to excel, you really have no choice but to excel yourself. You have to lead by example, right?
So in reality, what ends up happening is you develop together. I've seen this first hand as many of the people who put the most effort into my development ended up as Chiefs. And as I've followed the same blueprint of focusing on the development of my Airmen, I've found myself also wearing Chief stripes.
I truly believe I'm where I am today because of superb leaders who didn't settle for being comfortable, who worked for me and who were more focused on my promotions than their own.
Are you one of those superb leaders? Do you take on challenging jobs in order to grow as a leader? Do you truly work for your Airmen and ensure they are set up for success? Do you put the right focus on developing your Airmen for the next rank?
Perhaps the easiest way to answer these questions is to look back at the help wanted ad at the beginning and ask yourself a question that I ask myself regularly: If I had to reapply for this job today, would the Airmen I work for hire me?