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Airman ‘pace-setters’ succeed with grit, optimism

110818-F-YM869-003Commentary by Chief Master Sgt. Alan Boling
65th Air Base Wing

In a Ted Talk video I viewed recently, Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology, talked about achievement and why some people do well and some do not. In her research, Duckworth studied many different groups including, school children, West Point cadets, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods and salespeople in very challenging positions. Her goal: determine which individuals succeeded and why.

She found that personal grit, or determination, was the greatest single predictor of personal success. In fact, determination was an even stronger predictor of success than intelligence, family income, personal safety, social skills, good looks and even physical health.

Like many studies, this confirms what many Airmen come to know: more than talent, it takes determination to succeed. I’ve seen many Airmen who weren’t always the smartest or most popular, but worked hard to become technical experts and top leaders. Those Airmen often attained the coveted title of “Go-to Airman;” the type of Airman that is trusted time and again to make things happen in tough situations. Grit and determination produce “Go-to Airmen,” and those are the Airmen we need on our team.

Conversely, I’ve seen too many intellectuals and socially-intelligent people that were mediocre Airmen at best. Because they lacked heart or drive, they squandered their innate gifts by complaining, criticizing or directing their energy to useless drama or the party scene. These Airmen failed to achieve their potential because they did not have the drive to reach for goals beyond their current grasp.

But there’s more to the complete package when it comes to adopting the right Airman attitude.

Coupled with determination, optimism is the fuel that drives Airman and those around them. Optimism sustains forward momentum and energy, bringing out excellence in people; not just compliance.

On the other hand, a pessimist focuses on why things can’t be done instead of how it can be done. Like a bad apple in a barrel, the pessimist tries to spoil the rest of the bunch.

Several years ago while stationed in Alaska I received a valuable piece of advice on this trait. While talking with an experienced outdoorsman about navigating tough hunting terrain in Alaska, his best advice was, “pick your hunting partner wisely.” It only took one trip with a bad hunting partner to know exactly what he was talking about. You see, my hunting partner was a pessimist and in the tough situations we encountered, my partner’s attitude made the situation excruciatingly difficult.

In 24 years in the Air Force, I’ve come to know a few types of people who possess varying degrees of optimism and determination.

The “driver” is determined to get the mission done at all costs. Drivers make things happen, but too often at the expense of the Airmen around them.

“Caretakers” are the over-the-top optimist who insists that everything is “just fine.” Oftentimes, caretakers make you feel great about things, but their organization makes little positive movement in any one direction. Some would say, caretakers just “mind the store.”

But the best I’ve seen is the “pace-setter,” or that Airman that possesses the best qualities of the drivers and caretakers. This Airman establishes direction, encouraging and inspiring the people around him. Pace-setters influence their organization to do more and achieve team goals.

The balance exhibited by pace-setters inspires others through optimistic confidence and motivates their teammates with raw determination, enabling teams to achieve long-term goals and overcome short-term hardships.

I believe that most of us are naturally a driver or a caretaker, depending on our personality. No matter where you’re at in your Air Force career – whether driving hard to reach goals or taking care of those around you – I challenge you to balance these traits and become a determined and optimistic team member that sets the pace and inspires others to achieve excellence.

PHOTO: An Air Force pararescue trainee low crawls during an obstacle course event at Medina Annex, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Aug. 18, 2011. The initial course for a Pararescuemen trainee is a 9-week extensive physical conditioning indoctrination program at Lackland AFB, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erik Cardenas/Released)

To be continued…

Chief Master Sgt. Steve K. McDonald
By Chief Master Sgt. Steve K. McDonald
Air Force Personnel Enlisted Force Development

I have to admit I became a big fan of the television series “Lost” when a friend gave me past episodes on DVD that I watched while I was deployed.

After returning home, I watched the show without fail each week. One of the most frustrating things about following the series was being totally engrossed and losing track of time only to be brought to reality when the screen went blank and the words “To Be Continued …” appeared. You didn’t want the story to end; it was a disappointment. Wouldn’t it be nice if the show could go on forever? But, as the adage says, “All good things must come to an end.”

But is this adage an absolute truth? Since I began working in force development, I have come to learn that there are two things that should never come to an end: your personal and professional development. The concept of force development is extremely important in the Air Force. Developing and caring for Airmen has been one of the service’s stated priorities for many years.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy has spent the past three years espousing a philosophy of deliberately developing Airmen, as reflected in many of the Air Force’s policies and processes.

Within the world of doctrine and policy, force development is centered on the Continuum of Learning — a career-long process of individual development which connects education and training opportunities to assignment and deployment experiences.

In simpler terms, the Continuum of Learning consists of education, training and experience. For enlisted Airmen, this starts in basic military training and continues through initial skills training and into the first duty assignment.

Over the next four or 20 or 30 years, those same Airmen will continue their education and training from the Air Force by way of numerous assignments and deployment experiences. They will encounter people along the way and learn things about the service and themselves. Much of this will be deliberate in order to develop them both personally and professionally for future leadership roles in the Air Force.

But if we only focused on the resources employed by the Air Force, even force development would “come to an end.” That is why it is just as important to take a personal role in your own development. As many of you are aware, the Air Force chief of staff releases an annual reading list. Upon release of this year’s list, Daniel Sitterly, the director of force development under the deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, suggested that the Continuum of Learning should now consist of education, training, experience and reading. His point was valid.

I believe the point is that the Air Force does a good job investing in the development of individuals but we may not have done a very good job in getting people to invest in themselves.

There are many ways people can further their own development. Where the Air Force provides professional military education, individuals can pursue civilian educational opportunities. Where the Air Force provides upgrade skill training, individuals can read books and use computer-based training to enhance current skills or learn new skills. In addition to Air Force assignment and deployment experiences, Airmen can join professional organizations and take on leadership roles.

It goes without saying that the Air Force will continue to invest in the personal and professional development of its people. But with added emphasis and a commitment from individuals to invest in themselves, force development can reach new levels.
That’s the good thing about personal and professional development — they truly are designed “to be continued.”