Unexpected development

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- A few years ago I found myself doubting the Air Force's ability to provide development and mentoring.  I was a new Master Sergeant and had just relocated to the Security Forces Academy.  During my first few months there I quickly realized training pipeline Airmen was the primary focus in the unit, and in my opinion, it was detrimental to the permanent party NCOs. 

I engaged our unit's First Sergeant and Chief Master Sergeant and both admitted deliberate mentoring of the NCOs and SNCOs in the unit was lacking but they couldn't find adequate time to provide it with their workload.  Were the words in AFI 36-2618 hollow and meaningless, was I on my own to learn my new role as a SNCO?

So in truly poor fashion I began complaining to anyone who would listen about the dismal state of deliberate development and mentoring in our organization and on the base; my junior NCOs quickly chimed in and echoed the same message. 

Then it dawned on me, they were actually complaining about me.  What a hypocrite I'd been.  While feeling sorry for myself and complaining I'd failed to execute my duties and responsibilities.  It was my job to develop them to become better NCOs and SNCOs.  So from then on I promised myself I'd quit complaining about not receiving and started providing to my organization.  I enlisted my supervisor, peers, and subordinates to call me out if they heard me complaining to help keep me honest.

I found myself staring down the daunting task of what to do for development, there were two other SNCOs, who both agreed to help, at our operating location and 130 NCOs; each of them at different levels of development, different AFSCs, and varying levels of experience.

How was I going to build something that everyone could benefit from?  Start with the EPR.  It was an easy enough brief to put together, I did my research, and I actually read AFI 36-2406 and built a couple of slides to spur conversation in the room. 

As supervisors we decided in order for this to work we wanted duty time dedicated for this development. If it was important to us then we should show it with our actions.  I focused on facilitating discussion instead of lecturing to the group and they began to discuss their approaches to rating subordinates. We found a huge disparity between supervisors rating methods.  By the end of the first meeting I realized I had just gained more development as a SNCO in that room than I had in the last few months.  I had to research the Enlisted Evaluation System to prepare for the session, I learned about the different ways each of them approached supervision, and even got some blunt feedback on my methods of supervision.

We began setting up session once a month and were covering any topic we felt necessary, both career field specific and general Airmanship.  We conducted terrain walks, studied historic battles, practiced developing site defense plans, and had open dialogues about motivation and morale.

I've been able to take this style of development with me over the years to each assignment.  I've had to be open to criticism in many of the conversations and be willing to put my stripes and ego aside, but what I learned about myself from listening has helped make me a better leader. In an unexpected turn when I made a conscious effort to dedicate time to develop and mentor the people around me, make it fun and non-standard, I found the development I had been seeking.