Commentary - Doubting Development
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- What is the nature of doubt and does it serve a useful purpose? Perhaps the purpose can be seen as it drives behavior to action rather than inaction. A few years ago I found myself doubting the Enlisted Corps' ability to provide development and mentoring. I was a new master sergeant and had just relocated to the Security Forces Academy. During my first few months, I quickly came to realize that training the pipeline Airmen was the only focus in the unit, and in my opinion it was to the detriment of the permanent party NCOs. I engaged our unit’s first sergeant and chief master sergeant about the issue and both admitted that deliberate development and mentoring of the NCOs and SNCOs in the unit was lacking, but they were constantly busy and they doubted they could find adequate time to provide it. Were the words in AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, hollow and meaningless? Was I on my own to learn my new role as a SNCO?
So in truly poor fashion, I began sharing my doubts to anyone who would listen about the state of deliberate development and mentoring in our organization and on the base; my junior NCOs quickly chimed in and echoed the same doubts. Then it dawned on me that they were actually doubting me—what a hypocrite I’d been. While feeling sorry for myself and complaining, I’d failed to execute my duties and responsibilities. It was my job to develop them to become better NCOs and SNCOs. From then, there was no doubt, as it had pushed me to quit complaining about not receiving and started providing to my organization. I enlisted my supervisor, peers, and subordinates to call me out if they heard me complaining.
Now I found myself staring down the daunting task of what to do for development. There were two other SNCOs who both agreed to help further the professional development of the 130 NCOs at our operating location. Each NCO was at a different level of development, had different AFSCs and varied levels of experience; how was I going to build something that everyone could benefit from? We started with the EPR. It was an easy enough brief to put together. I did my research, and I actually read AFI 36-2406, The Enlisted Evaluation System, and built a couple of slides to spur conversation in the room. As supervisors we decided that in order for this to work we wanted duty time dedicated for this. If it was important to us then we should show it with our actions.
We corralled the technical sergeants in the conference room and I focused on facilitating discussion instead of lecturing. They began to discuss their approaches to rating subordinates and we found we had a huge disparity between rating methods. By the end of the first meeting I realized that I had just gained more development as a SNCO in that room than I had in the last few months. I had to research the instruction to prepare for the session, I learned about the different ways each of them approached supervision and even got some blunt feedback on my methods of supervision.
We began setting up sessions once a month and were covering any topic we felt necessary, both career field specific and general Airmanship. We conducted terrain walks, studied historic battles, practiced developing site defense plans and had open dialogues about motivation and morale. I’ve been able to take this style of development with me over the years to each assignment. I’ve had to be open to others' doubt in many of the conversations and be willing to put my stripes and ego aside, but what I learned from listening has helped make me a better leader. In an unexpected turn, when I made a conscious effort to dedicate time to develop and mentor the people around me, make it fun and non-standard, I found the development I had been seeking. Do you have doubts about my approach? Take action and find one that suits you. I have no doubt you'll find the time and it will make you a better leader too.