I’ve been in the Air Force for about 5 years. I’ve worked as Command Support Staff for majority of that time. If you’re unfamiliar with that position, I basically worked in the Commander’s(CC) office keeping up with all of the Commander’s programs.
There is a huge stigma at play when you work in the Commander’s office. People think you’re there to make coffee and answer phones. Did I make coffee? Sure, when I wanted to drink it. Did the Commander ever make me make it? Never. Did he drink it when I made it, sure. Did I drink it when he made it, you bet I did.
When the phone rang did I answer it? Well, yes! Communication has to remain continuous. Even when the CC was in his office, I was the person taking the call unless it was to his personal line, which didn’t ring very often and when it did, it was higher leadership reaching out to him for a very good reason. Most of the time, they’d still call the main line because even higher leadership understand the protocol on calling the Squadron Commander. You went through me!
The Administration career field isn’t new, perhaps it has a new name, it has the same mission; provide support for the Commander. Even though we may working in an office away from our peers, I believe we’re getting first hand experience from the leaders of our organization on how to lead a massive group of people!! I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else. I get to interact with leadership on levels that very few get to do at my current rank, and the rank I used to be. There is no better place to develop your leadership skills than with the leaders of your own organization. The short time I’ve been in, I’ve worked for three different CCs. In this, I’ve learned many things. My Commander wasn’t just my Commander, or my immediate supervision, but he was also a mentor. He taught me what it meant to lead, how to lead and why we lead.
I know that sounds like special treatment, but as you’re running the Commander’s programs, you’ve got to work closely as a team. Believe it or not, sometimes the CC just needed someone to talk to and listening was about the only thing I could do. It helped him and I learned a lot!!
I learned that leaders trust people to get the job done. I wasn’t micromanaged. My CC allowed me to do my job without interruption. He also trusted that if I had questions that I would seek out the right answer. Being able to work freely without ‘eyes on me’ helped me fluidly get things accomplished without the feeling of pressure. I had timelines and he gave me a chance to meet them, even when it was minutes before they were due. He did this because even if I did get them in late, he would rather us have a qualify product than a rushed, poor quality product. And he knew that adding pressure wouldn’t help. Leaders trust their team to get the job done, but also to get the job done with great results.
I remember being a Senior Airman, after working Command Staff for a while, I had been pulled up to work for the Command Chief Exec position while the current exec was about to take vacation. I began to work on a few schedule conflicts and needed to call a squadron. Of course I called the Group to work it, but I ended up having to work straight with the office. When it came time for Command Chief to visit the unit, the office called me to see if he was on his way just so they could be ready to greet him. I told the Tech Sergeant on the phone that Chief went to lunch at 1130 and said he’d go straight from there so I assume he’s on his way. The Tech Sergeant on the phone said to me, “I need to know, I don’t need you to assume.” So I responded with, “Yes, Sir, I understand that, but Chief gave me his plan for the next few hours, he’ll be there as his schedule indicates.” After all, though, if he’s late, neither of us can help that. I called the Chief right after to make sure he was on his way anyway to put the Tech Sergeant at ease and Chief did say he was on his way. I did learn, though that the Tech Sergeant was right, I should never have assumed. In this case, it’s less severe because I knew Chief knew he had a schedule to follow and in his position, he knew it was important to keep to it. I did learn that leaders should collect data, information, or calculations to arrive at a definite answer. Assuming can sometimes be the wrong answer and could cause other issues. It’s important to know the answer and if you don’t know an answer, seek it! Leaders don’t assume, they seek the right answer.
There were times when the Commander’s direct line would ring like I mentioned before. Usually when this happened, it was really important. I found it odd when the Wing Commander would call the main line to speak with the Commander when he knew his number. Why would he use a middle man? He’s THE boss of the base! He can go straight to anyone! Then I realized, breaking the normal process just because you have that authority doesn’t mean you have to use it, or abuse it. And so, leaders don’t use authority to make things happen. They make things happen because they lead by example, they inspire, they motivate others to do what’s right, not what’s easiest.
Last lesson for this story…I was an Airman First Class at the time. I was talking with the Commander one day about the squadron and I asked a question about the back shop. The back shop is the office that handled the patches and updates. The Commander said, “I don’t know” and he laughed. I said, “Are you joking with me.” He laughed and said, “My job as Commander isn’t to know how every single program is ran. My job is to get us from Point A to Point B as effectively and timely as possible.” In that moment, my whole thought process changed on what a leader is. I thought he knew everything, that’s why he was Commander, right? It was certainly not what I thought. My understanding was incorrect. He was correct, though! Whatever happens in between Point A and Point B, it’s the leaders responsibility to assist with resources, knowledge, to guide, mentor, assist, inspire and motivate teams to meet their goals or objectives.