My First Deployment: A Joint Environment – 4 Leadership Lessons

Leadership

I was on vacation in Texas with my wife and daughter.  We were vising family, enjoying being away from our normal routine in Colorado.  My Superintendent calls and says, well, I have some bad news.  You’ve been hit with a deployment.

Nothing really bad about it, just wasn’t expecting to get tagged as I just got to the unit 6 months prior.  It happens, I’ve been tagged with less time on station before, but it got canceled. What do you do when you’re tasked to deploy? You begin to prepare and roll with the punches. 

Four months later I got on a plane and flew out of the US for the first time in my life.  Was I nervous?  Yes!  I wasn’t being tasked with a group of people.  I was alone and I didn’t know what to expect.  After almost missing my international flight, I was finally able to relax on a long 9 hour flight to Zurich and then another 9 hour flight to Muscat, Oman.  You see, this was no ordinary report to an Air Force base and begin your time. There was no base.  There were no dorms. There were no chow halls. There was the Embassy. I was tasked to work at a U.S. Embassy. I didn’t even know such a tasking existed.  No one ever talks about this sort of tasking.  It was going to be interesting.

This was a joint environment. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force.  I was around other branches actively for the first time in my career.  What do you do when you find yourself learning the culture of other branches? You become a sponge and start learning the best you can. Sadly, I just wasn’t up to par on how other branches operate.  I highly respect my brothers and sisters in arms from other branches, but I honestly don’t know much about the other branches.  I was not only about to learn a new position, but I was about to learn how to work with other services on a different level than the usual operations that I was accustomed to in the Air Force.

If you know me, I don’t take part in anything without trying to learn something about leadership.  Thus, after 20 hours of flying back home, reflecting and analyzing what I just did for the last six months I have narrowed down the lessons I’ve learned while working in a joint service environment.

Teamwork makes the dream work.  When you combine multiple cultures into one culture, things can get tough. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, different terminology, different skills and everyone had different missions that contribute to the overall mission. We all had our own missions to do, but when someone needed the assistance from someone else, you had their attention. When you have the cooperation of others that agree on the same solution while striving for a shared/common goal, you get success.  I learned that when you need help to make progress, find out who the subject matter expert is on the team so they can bring their skills to the court.  You can’t win alone.  Use your team when necessary.  Leaders don’t lead because they know all of the answers, they lead knowing that diversity is a great team asset.  Teamwork is viable and valuable. If you can’t take another step, someone on your team will be able to help you take it.  Leaders utilize their team members effectively.

The right environment makes a difference.  I was the lowest ranking member in the office.  In fact, we only had three enlisted members in the office.  Everyone else was an officer.  As the new guy in the office learning not only about the job, but the people and their mission, I was a sponge taking in information on a level I’ve never known.  Given that it was a joint environment, the people around me helped me learn, at my pace, how they operated and how they contributed to the mission.  They didn’t get frustrated that I didn’t know certain processes or procedures, but they adjusted as needed to fit my learning needs.  They didn’t expect me to know everything.  They created an environment of progress and learning.  Adjusting to a new position was going to take a little time. Leaders are adaptable.  They are able to change approaches on a whim.  I am thankful for the officers who were patient with me as I learned about my job, learned about them and learned about the whole mission.  They helped me learn effectively and they taught me effectively. The environment, in a way, changed to fit my knowledge, but yet remained in a progressive state.  I believe if I entered a work environment that demanded instant knowledge, instant responses, instant right answers that I would have been overly stressed making the office a place I didn’t want to be in.  I’m thankful to learn the importance of culture in a joint level. An effective work culture contributes to the effectiveness of the office. The people can make that happen and it’s people that should make that happen. Leaders are adaptable and create environments fit for growth.

Communication is key for any team to function.  There were some days where everyone was in the office and some days where only a few remained in the office.  Communication goes a long way and without communication no team can function fluidly.  We had meetings Sunday morning and Thursday afternoon.  Sunday morning was a time to say, hey, here is what is going on this week.  Thursday was a time to reflect on what happened during the week as preparation for the next.  Although, at first, I really didn’t see the need for two meetings a week, but looking back, these meetings were very important. Even though, I had a small role in them, for the big picture, they were crucial. This was the time where we all came together in one room to talk through issues and how we were going to fix them. This wasn’t a time just for updates, but this was a time to communicate.  Communication was the driving force for this.  Everyone had their chance to speak and everyone had a chance to listen, learn, provide feedback, and provide ideas/suggestions.  Without this circle of communication, getting everyone on the same page would take a lot more effort and time.  I’ve been through many staff meetings and some seem like a waste of time, lack purpose and boring.  I began to look at these meetings as the chance to communicate. As everyone had their own agenda during the week and turned many pages, this time allowed everyone to sync up and get on the same page.  Communication was key in making this happen. Leaders communicate. 

You’ve got to have balance! When you’re away from your family during the holidays, it can take a hit on your spirit and your morale. The best thing about this deployment was that when we weren’t at work, we weren’t working. Haha. The people around me would always have something going on that allowed us to hang out, relax, and keep the morale up. Weather it was a camping trip, a hiking trip, a site seeing trip, or even just going out to eat, it was an important time to balance the week out.  Balance is very important even when you’re not deployed.  Although, I wasn’t around my family, we became like a family. We made sure there was a time for fun. It wasn’t forced, like “mandatory fun,” it was genuine fun.  I find that foreign in our culture sometimes. We try to force it with fun runs, BBQs, etc. Sometimes the best thing to do is provide the opportunity and those who want to show up can voluntarily show up.  Balance helped me stay positive and grateful.  I met awesome people and I’m grateful they provided the opportunity to have a little fun while being away from my family. Leaders provide balance. 

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