Leadership development should be a leader's goal

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Leon Alexander
  • 908th Airlift Wing
Despite living in college football country, most Alabamans have heard of Wayne Gretzky. He was an average-sized player with average speed; nonetheless, he is considered to be the greatest hockey player of all time. He was a master of watching the game, anticipating changes, and preparing for future outcomes.

In an interview, he was asked what contributed to his highly successful career.
"A good hockey player plays to where the puck is," he replied. "A great hockey player plays to where the puck is going to be." Because of its visionary nature, his quote is a hallmark in many leadership courses throughout the corporate world regarding both self development and organizational mission success.

The military, like its civilian counterparts, realizes today's mission is fast-paced, fiscally constrained, and steadily unsteady. In order to quickly adapt to this ever-changing mission and be able to skate where the puck will be, senior leadership needs a well-developed, prepared workforce of professional Airmen. Hence lays the premise behind enlisted force development.

Development is more than doing what is needed to get your next stripe.
It's about learning a new skill, self confidence, or better aptitude to become partners with senior leadership in order to assist them in building a superior organization. Personal career success will ultimately come to those individuals committed to developing themselves, their teammates, and their organizations.

The archaic mindset where enlisted personnel were promoted for doing a good job was commonplace when they were viewed simply as a subordinate, blue-collar workforce. Today promotions are based on the whole Wingman concept.
After all, AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, mandates all ranks must continue to "develop institutional competencies in preparation for increased responsibilities while continuing to broaden technical skills and pursuing professional development through on- and off-duty education."

That being said, how can a person say he or she is more deserving of a promotion when a contemporary sitting next to them has a master's degree, completed all the required PME, and is mentoring his or her trainees to do the same? The analytical skill sets and initiative of the latter rival those of many commanders and bring far more to the table than somebody who simply does a good job.

People often procrastinate completing mandatory PME under the false pretense they are stuck in a slot with no room for advancement. As a result, they take on a "skate-to-the- puck" mentality. As many know, the game is subject to swift and frequent changes, so good employees often lose to the Airmen who stay ahead of the game.

What is the key to successful enlisted advancement? First and foremost, complete your PME and earn your CCAF. Active duty mandates a CCAF for promotion to SMSgt and is looking to make it mandatory for MSgt as well. Why would the Reserve Component lower this standard?

Second, become engaged in perpetual learning. Try earning your Professional Manger Certification, complete Joint SNCO PME, or apply for other leadership courses. Complete the NCOLDP or SNCOLC. Above all, mentor your fellow Airmen to do the same.

Remember, mentoring in the military is both an obligation and a privilege. It provides the foundation to bring culture change to an organization by developing competent future leaders. One of the ongoing themes during the SMSgt and CMSgt PEP boards is what has the person done for other Airmen.

Caring for the Airmen is the foremost principle to enlisted development. Part of this comes in taking a tough stance on leadership enforcing issues. To establish a culture of excellence, caring for the Airmen must include setting and high standards. Taking a coddling approach to leadership, overlooking substandard performances, does not benefit anybody and eventually results in marginal results.

Developing leaders for the 908th is not easy, but as Nick Saban asked his team, "how good do you want to be? How hard are you willing to work at it?"