Tag Archives: standards

Set the standard every day

Culture of Fitnessby Master Sgt. David A. Kolcun
7th Maintenance Group

We often talk about setting standards for our Airmen to follow and holding them accountable when they fail to do so. In my opinion, the best way to teach adherence to the standards is through example.

This became painfully clear to me one summer morning at unit PT. Back in 2009, I was a technical sergeant stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. I was an avid runner; much faster than I am these days. Our squadron conducted physical training as a unit every Tuesday and Thursday morning. One Thursday morning, we were set to run a 5K, which we did almost every Thursday. However, this particular run would humble me and highlight how my actions affect those around me. We started the run, and I was out in front. Not long into the run I began to fatigue a bit, probably because I had run four miles the night before. I decided that I didn’t need to finish the whole run. Mistakenly, my mentality was that PT was for those who weren’t as active, and after all, I ran yesterday. I was doing just fine on my own. So at the one mile marker, I turned around and headed back. Knowing it probably wasn’t the best choice, I quickly got over it and cheered on the rest of the unit as they returned, as I did every week.

Following the run, a very good friend of mine came up to me and explained that I shouldn’t have turned around early. I said, “Yeah I know but I just wasn’t feeling it today, and besides, I ran yesterday.” I will never forget his response. “What you didn’t see was the three Airmen that turned around right after you did,” he said. Wow. Have you ever had one of those epiphanies? One of those moments when something just clicks? In that instance, I realized that my actions were guiding their behavior. They were following me, and I had led them astray. They knew where the established turnaround was but they saw me, a respected NCO in their unit, turn around early. So why shouldn’t they?

It was in that profound moment that I “got it” — everyone is watching me. When I’m in uniform off base, everyone is watching to see what I’m doing. If I am unprofessional, I am saying that the entire Air Force is unprofessional. If I’m cutting corners at work, my peers and subordinates will likely follow that pattern. When Airmen see me walk by a problem, I’m responsible when they do the same.

Timothy Bridges, former deputy assistant to the secretary of the Air Force said, “You are a [direct] reflection of your organization. And your people will emulate your behavior. If you’re cutting around the edges or taking shortcuts, they will do the same thing.” This was never truer than on that run that day. Now, is the Air Force going to crumble because a couple of us Airmen turned around early? No, probably not, but I use that experience as a reminder that I am an example to others. I must do the right thing even when I’m not “feeling it.” When I think no one is looking, I stick to the standards. When I am pressed for time or behind a deadline, I stick to the standards.

What my friend was telling me that morning was that others will follow you whether you’re right or wrong. That’s a huge responsibility, but following the standards through personal example is a core competency in this Air Force. I draw on my experience and use it as a moral compass pointing me to do the hard right, instead of the easy wrong.

As a first sergeant, I know I live in a magnified fishbowl where everyone scrutinizes my every move. But I don’t hold myself to the standards and do what’s right solely because of my diamond; I do it because there may be three Airmen behind me looking for direction.

PHOTO: Senior Airman Angela Duff, 62nd Aerial Port Squadron, runs on a pathway along Heritage Hill April 19, 2010, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. as part of her daily routine. Cutting corners on daily routines and physical training requirements can set a poor example and lead subordinates to mirror bad habits. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Abner Guzman)

Strong, positive leaders engage Airmen, Dec. 5, 2012

 

F-15 fly in formation at the Air Force Memorial.

By Col. Jason Beck
51st Security Forces Squadron commander

The stripes, bars, oak leaves, eagles and stars on our uniforms tell the world that we are leaders. Strong, positive leadership is crucial in today’s ever changing Air Force, and the rank on our uniform illustrates visible symbols of our leadership authority that the Air Force has placed on us. But, being a leader consists of much more than the rank that you wear on your uniform. I have been fortunate in my career to be surrounded by phenomenal leaders. The lessons I learned from them helped me develop into the officer I am today. I pass these “essentials” of leadership on to you in the hopes that they help you as much as they have helped me.

Remember, you are a leader 24/7, in and out of uniform, on and off base – not just when it is convenient for you. When your Airmen are working hard, don’t spare yourself, do the same and set the example. Leadership by example isn’t something you can delegate. You must demonstrate it daily. Clock watching shouldn’t happen, especially in today’s “do more with less,” resource-constrained environment.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence in your unit. While being honest with others is paramount, you also have an obligation to be honest with yourself. Don’t do things just to make yourself look good in front of the boss. If this is your idea of being a good leader, you’ve lost before you’ve even started.

It’s imperative we leaders get actively involved in the lives of our Airmen. Demonstrate through actions, not words, that you care about your Airmen and about the conditions they live and work in. Always accept total responsibility for any organizational failures and remember, leaders fix mistakes and never blame others.

Organizations achieve success by having responsible “doers,” not dreamers. Large projects and meaningful achievements are accomplished by brave Airmen in the trenches, not by those who watch from a distance; not by the fans in the stands but by the focused, committed players and coaches on the field; not by those leaders who stay in the middle of the road where things are safe but by those leaders who get off the fence of indecision, even though their decisions are sometimes unpopular. Be a leader and take the decisive action needed; earn your rank every day.

Set standards high and insist everyone else measure up. Haircuts, uniform wear, basic customs and courtesies; these may not be at the top of your priority list as a leader, but if these small details start falling off in your organization, it won’t be long before things such as discipline and job performance begin to suffer. Ensure you work hard for your subordinates – they deserve the best and count on you to set the right tone in your unit.

Communicate with your Airmen daily. Be able to articulate how the role of each Airman contributes to the unit’s mission and how that mission fits into the role of the wing. Know your role and ensure your Airmen are intimately familiar with theirs. Communicate with your Airmen in their work centers, not yours, make yourself available and take the message to them. As hard as it can be, always take the time to leave your desk and make yourself visible in their work areas to demonstrate genuine concern for what your Airmen are doing and thinking. Listen. Airmen are full of great ideas, but they won’t see the light of day if a positive communication climate is not established and fostered.

Above all, be honest with your subordinates and superiors. Tell it like it is and insist that your Airmen do the same. There are few things that can be more disastrous to the dynamics of an organization than “yes” people, half-truths and a lack of integrity.

I sincerely hope that you’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by great leaders in your career like I have. There are as many principles of good leadership as there are people who serve as leaders. However, that doesn’t diminish the importance of strong, positive, engaged leadership.

As a leader, it is imperative you select and carry out the principles that work the best for you and your Airmen.

Photo: Four F-15E Strike Eagles fly June 2, 2011, above the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gino Reyes)

Through Airmen’s Eyes: Cadet candidate overcomes adversity, October 12, 2012

 

Cadet Candidate William Roe

By Amber Baillie
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

(This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Home has never been where 18-year old William Roe’s heart is.

A cadet candidate at the Academy’s Preparatory School, Roe hopes to one day be an officer in the Air Force and has found his key strength through his education to get where he is today: from being hungry and living out of his mother’s car at age six to being a step away from attending one of the most prestigious institutions in the nation, the Air Force Academy.

Originally from Robinson, Texas, Roe grew up in a low-income household amid continual drug abuse and hardship.

“Over the course of my life, my family hadn’t done a whole lot to contribute to society in a positive way,” Roe said. “My dad went to prison, my mom tried to overdose a handful of times, and my brothers got in a lot of trouble.”

When Roe was just an infant, his father manufactured methamphetamine in their home. The house was eventually raided, and his father was sent to jail, leaving Roe, his mother and siblings on their own.

“My mom had a really hard time supporting us,” Roe said. “I can remember times when she would put us in the car and tell us we were going somewhere, drive until we fell asleep and then we’d wake up in the car the next morning. I guess she just didn’t have the heart to tell us that we didn’t have anywhere to go.”

At age 12, Roe began work for a local landscaping company to help pay the family’s bills and set aside money for when he wanted to purchase things such as school pictures, yearbooks or field trips.

“I’m not going to say it was an enjoyable experience, but now that I’m older and not doing it anymore I’m pretty proud of it,” Roe said. “If I hadn’t gone through some of things I went through as a kid, I don’t think I would have the level of maturity and mental toughness that I have today.”

Roe said he doesn’t remember a time when his family wasn’t on food stamps, welfare or unemployment. He said there were several occasions where he and his brothers were separated from their mother and sent to live with distant relatives because they didn’t have a place to sleep.

By age 15, Roe decided to no longer live at home, often times sleeping in the locker room at his high school, staying with friends or sleeping in the car he purchased after working a full-time job for eight months.

“A lot of people when they think homeless, they think of standing on the street corner with a cardboard sign, and that wasn’t the situation at all,” Roe said. “I was always welcome to come home, but it wasn’t an environment where I could focus on my studies and not get into trouble.”

Roe’s brothers had all dropped out of school and became addicted to drugs.

“I saw my brothers get in trouble with drugs, dealing and fighting,” Roe said. “I love my brothers, but as I got older, I realized that I wanted to be better and didn’t want to follow in their footsteps.”

Roe said he didn’t always eat, especially the nights he slept in the locker room. He would skip dinner and wait until the next morning for his free breakfast at school.

“Kids would anonymously leave me food. I never felt bad accepting it because it’s nice to know whether you talk about your life or not, people are willing to look after you,” Roe said.

At age 16, Roe lived with his grandmother for a short period of time and faced further hardship when she was instantly killed in a car accident he witnessed on his way to her house.

“After the accident, I happened to be driving on the highway and recognized her truck,” Roe said. “Being the one who lived with her and being close to the accident, I had to inform everyone what had happened. It’s hard when you have to tell your mother that her mother had passed away over something so spontaneous.”

Despite not always having a home, food or family members who cared about him, Roe said he always looked toward the future and found motivation and support through individuals and activities at school.

“School was the one place I was really comfortable,” Roe said. “I had a great network of friends. I couldn’t imagine being in this position if I hadn’t gone to Robinson High School. The staff members went above and beyond to make sure I was successful and a lot of them gave me a place to stay.”

Roe was the vice president of his senior class, a leader in National Honor Society, and homecoming king. He volunteered regularly to help tutor kids.

“I made an effort to become best friends with the people that I wanted to model my life after,” Roe said. “I’ve aimed high in everything that I do so that one day, when I have my own family, I can provide for them and my kids will never have to go through the same things I went through.”

Roe also participated in sports: football, power-lifting, cross-country, track and soccer.

“I actually got recognized for doing the most sports in high school,” Roe said. “It was constructive, a huge stress reliever and helped me get my mind off my family.”

Upon high school graduation, Roe received a full-ride scholarship from Texas A&M as well as a $20,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger Scholar Foundation. Through the foundation, Roe took a trip to Washington, D.C., and met influential figures such as Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas and actor Rob Lowe.

“I was one of 104 selected from 50,000 applicants,” Roe said. “I met these incredible people and we had a formal induction ceremony inside the Supreme Court building. When the scholars walked down the aisle among all of these successful people who came from similar backgrounds as us and were successful, had respect for us and shook our hands when we walked passed them, that was the most incredible moment of my entire life. So far nothing has compared to that.”

Roe said he applied to the Academy because he appreciates the structure of the military and thinks he could use his leadership potential if he became a second lieutenant.

“The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to be a part of the Air Force,” Roe said. “I’m attracted to the wingman concept and appreciate that everyone is held to a higher standard and responsible for their actions. If they act out, they’ll be punished for it. I love that aspect.”

Although Roe wasn’t accepted into the Academy, he said he chose to spend a year at the Prep School because he knew he would receive solid preparation to lead men and women if he were to become an officer.

“There were thousands of people who competed just for a spot in the Prep School and only 240 people got in,” Roe said. “I wasn’t a recruit, my ACT scores weren’t very high but I got here on my ability to overcome adversity. I now have my own bed, get to shower every night and I don’t have to worry about my clothes not looking as nice as everyone else’s because we’re all in uniform. Every day I wake up and think about how awesome this opportunity is and I’m extremely grateful to be here.”

Roe came to Colorado Springs not knowing a single person until he stepped off the plane and was approached by a complete stranger at the airport.

“This woman approached me and started to ask me questions,” Roe said. “I didn’t want to tell her much because I didn’t know her but she proceeded to tell me that she was a sponsor for two cadets at the Academy.”

Roe said she offered him a place to stay for the night but he initially declined. He said it wasn’t until she mentioned what she was cooking for dinner that evening that made him change his mind.

“I was extremely hungry and I honestly knew I probably wouldn’t be able to eat that night because I didn’t have enough money,” Roe said. “I went home with her and the steak fajitas turned out to be terrific.”

It was then when Roe found his sponsor family: Col. Rob Widmann, retired Lt. Col. Ida Widmann and their two sons, Robert and Alex.

“Not only was I able to eat that night but I was blessed enough to have met her and now I have people who are willing to look out for me,” Roe said.

Roe plays on the Prep School’s soccer team and said as much as he would love to play for the Academy someday, only time will tell.

“I wanted to play soccer my whole life and can recall being seven, eight and nine years old asking if I could join the team and my parents would never let me,” Roe said. “That’s why I only played in high school. I would definitely like to join the track team at the Academy and would probably participate in long jump, high jump or triple jump.”

Roe said it will be the hardest yet most fantastic decision of his life when he is forced to choose whether to pursue the Academy or attend Texas A&M at the end of the year.

Photo: Cadet Candidate William Roe said he is determined to make it work at the Academy. “I’ve been given this great opportunity,” the Air Force Academy Preparatory School student said Oct. 3, 2012. “If I mess up, I have nothing.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Carol Lawrence)

Toeing the line on standards, Sept. 28, 2012

 

Standards graphicBy Master Sgt. Edward A. Dierkens
30th Intelligence Squadron

For the past four years of my career, as a first sergeant, I have heard the words, “But Shirt, he’s a good guy,” far too many times.

Whether it was for a failed physical training test or substandard performance of noncommissioned officer responsibilities, the same statement would pop up time and again.

One would think these words would have been uttered by a young NCO, or maybe even a young officer; but more often than not, these words were coming from seasoned NCOs and senior NCOs as well as the occasional officer. Usually, the next phrase would be, “But we don’t want to hurt their career,” which is almost just as frustrating.

It’s all about the standards for 99 percent of what I have seen relating to commander-worked issues for the past four years. The one percent is usually the outlier, the very extreme situation where myriad things came together to form a perfect storm in which the service member could not prevent what was happening. However, the vast majority is the part that interests me most and how we hold service members accountable for their actions in accordance with the standards.

The first part of the problem is remembering the standards.

The Air Force asks its Airmen to be phenomenal, in accordance with AFI 36-2618, “The Enlisted Force Structure,” which states we are Airmen first, specialists second. There are times when Airmen forget this notion and think that all that is sacred is the mission, many times at the expense of other Airmen and their families. The half hour it takes to conduct a formal feedback, or the five minutes it takes to sit down and ask their subordinates how they are doing or how was your weekend is something often taken for granted. How do we hold supervisors accountable for not fulfilling their responsibilities as NCOs and senior NCOs? My blood pressure goes up a tick when I hear the words, “But he is a good Airman,” to which I rebut, “No, he is a good worker. If he were a good Airman, we would not be talking about what he did wrong but rather the great things he is doing.”

When do we say, “Now it’s time to hold you accountable”?

For some supervisors, the time to hold their Airmen accountable doesn’t come because they view it as hurting the Airman’s career. They do not acknowledge the corrosive effects it has on the Airmen who are doing everything right all the time, those Airmen who are “truly among the best,” as our performance reports reflect. This is a huge disservice to those that are getting it done every day. Not to mention, it’s not us who are hurting their career. Ultimately, it’s them. So how do you get someone to see the big picture? Sometimes getting people to realize that not everyone is a “5” takes some work.

In addition to job performance, another frequently worked issue is fitness.

Somewhere along the line, many supervisors seem to have forgotten physical fitness is a standard. AFI 36-2905, “Fitness Program,” states this fact as well as block three on all enlisted performance reports. The easy part of this standard is that the Air Force has taken all subjectivity out of it with the “Meets or Does Not Meet” options when the performance report closes out. The only problem with that is what do you do when there are one, two, or maybe even three failures in a twelve month period, then the member passes before an EPR closes out? How does that get documented? What exactly is the standard? Table A19.1, AFI 36-2905, has a guideline on what commanders could impose at each failure, but it is an illustrative table only, not binding.

Many discussions surface in which people think since block three on the performance report references fitness, it is, therefore, the only place where such ratings should be captured. In reality, the enlisted performance reports have several sections that should also be considered when dealing with fitness to include leadership, followership, mentorship and readiness. That being said, it would be very difficult to let fitness dwell in box three alone. Imagine for a moment that you are the young Airman, and your supervisor or mentor is the one not meeting the standard.

How would that make you feel?

Or imagine you’re the Airman who has to deploy on short notice because one of your peers has failed again and cannot deploy due to a control-roster action. Meanwhile, this Airman may be intent on passing his next assessment before his next performance report closes out knowing full well there won’t be any markdowns.

“But Shirt, it’s only PT,” doesn’t seem to fit, does it?

More often than not, a closed door mentorship session on holding our Airmen accountable for their actions across the unit is all it will take to get a supervisor to realize that a mark down is the right thing to do.

It’s not a career killer, the Airman can recover, and at this point and time they are not truly among the best.

Moreover, first sergeants are in the business of taking care of people, not just the ones getting in trouble, but the shiny pennies as well. Not giving a deserving member a markdown is disrespectful to the folks that are taking care of business every single day. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cookie cutter approach to how leadership at any level will handle any given situation, but if we cherish our Air Force standards and hold people accountable for their actions, everyone will be taken care of in the end.

Photo: (U.S. Air Force graphi by Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton)