For those of us in the Air Force we’ve all seen AFI 36-2618 The Enlisted Force Structure, or better known as the “little brown book.” It outlines our force structure and provides an overview of each tier’s responsibilities and roles. Of course the responsibilities that we really must do are more in depth than what is listed, but it gives you the general outline of what each tier is expected to do. It’s great to keep this little brown book around.
A buddy of mine, who just made Master Sergeant(congrats, JR) asked me what was a piece of advice, tip, or suggestion that I wish my leadership would have told me to make the transition easier upon becoming an NCO(non-commissioned officer). I had to think back a bit on when I pinned on Staff Sergeant and brainstorm what insight I wish would have been emphasized a little more or at least pointed out. I made a quick post on Facebook asking my fellow NCOs the same question. Though, it was late last night, I did receive one reply(thanks, Theodore). I thought more about it last night and made a quick list of 5 things, including what Theodore mentioned and turned them into 5 Leadership Tips To Remember As An NCO. These points are not an outstanding epiphany or extraordinary tips that have never been realized, but they’re simple and effective. I’m sure there are many other things to remember as you become and grow as an NCO, but these are just a few that I feel are very important.
As a leader, we’re expected to naturally do all the things a leader should do, but not everyone learns leadership at the same rate and no one will get it right the first time. That’s why we share knowledge and have mentors to go to. For some, it takes years to develop certain skills. I’m still learning how to be an effective leader, but I get better every day. I hope you take heart these 5 tips and hope that they at least help you be better as an NCO and as a leader.
1. Never forget what it was like to be a Airman. We all come into the service with a little understanding on how things run and it can be quite intimidating. When an Airman messes up or does something wrong, remember that you were once that Airman. It doesn’t mean to be soft on the Airman, but it’s always wise to understand a situation before reacting. It’s like the old saying, never forget your roots. Use it as a time to mentor and coach. Listen to their understanding of how things work and don’t work. It’s an opportunity to grow your Airman and teach them how to do things. Leaders listen.
2. Your example sets the standard of the culture of the office. Basically, your subordinates are watching you. They’re watching your behavior, your leadership skills, your approach of handling situations and many other things. The best way to lead is lead by example. Set the bar high and keep it there. Show your team how to be great. Let them know that there is a standard of work ethic in your office and that you won’t tolerate disruptive behavior and performance. The best way to show them is to do it. Be the example. Lead by holding the team to a higher standard, don’t allow them to settle for good, strive for greatness.
3. Learn from your Airman as they learn from you. A friend of mine messaged me the other day and said, “If you’re not learning from your followers, you’re not leading.”(thanks, Corey) There is truth to this. Just like leading by example, this shows that you are human and that you don’t know all the answers. It also shows that leaders can come from any rank or position. When you learn from them, it, in a way empowers them to not be afraid to share knowledge. Airman have a lot of great ideas, we always need to be willing to listen to them. Communication is a 2 way street and so is learning. Learning from each other builds trust and trust strengthens team. Lead by learning from them just as much as you should be teaching them.
4. Learn together. There is a time when you should be mentoring/educating/coaching your team and a time when you should be learning from your team. There is also a time when you and your team need to go out and learn something together. Make time for them to grow and develop. Call it if you will, a time for professional development. This can be done in many ways. You can sign up for a leadership seminar on base, or in the community. You can buy leadership books(I highly recommend something like Habitudes by Dr. Tim Elmore), or even pop open YouTube and look for a Leadership Keynote talk, or even a TEDTalk. There are plenty of avenues that you can seek in order to learn together. Leaders invest in the development of their team members.
5. Get to know your Airman. As a supervisor and a leader, you MUST know your team. You’ve got to know who they are on a deeper level than the obvious. Knowing your team members not only allows you to understand your team, but allows you to know how to lead them. Each person will need to be lead differently, which is why getting to know your Airman is crucial to the effectiveness of your leadership. I remember one Friday morning, we paused work for a time of Analog Leadership(basically an unplugged face to face time for mentorship/discussion). In this time, we told each other a few things about each other. Things about our family, our history, our passions. I learned so much about my Airman, things I would have never known if we didn’t spend time to get to know each other. I was truly inspired by their stories. This, in a way, gave leverage on how to lead each person by understanding not only their way of thinking, but their heart. Leadership is about taking care of people and you can’t take of your people if you don’t know what they need. Leaders know their team members.