The other night I was driving home from work listening to the radio. A commercial came on for Mountain Dew and Jason Aldean, a popular country singer, said, “This is how I Dew” – then went on to explain his life philosophy.
Later I saw a commercial with another music star that was advertising for Mountain Dew. He also said, “This is how I Dew” and explained his philosophy. That “how I Dew” tagline prompted me to think about what we do as NCOs. In essence, “this is how we ‘do’.”
This is how we do: the mission. As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III said, “No one will care how well you take care of your people if we lose the next war.” NCOs understand the priorities of the Air Force, our command, our center, our wing and our squadron. We know how important it is to educate our Airmen on the mission so they know what they are driving toward and how their actions are instrumental in getting that mission done.
This is how we do: values. NCOs know, care about and enforce our core values. We embrace, preach and live the guidelines set forth in our Enlisted Force Structure, and we absolutely embrace the responsibility to train our Airmen in their specialty, to be masters at their trade, and to teach them how to be professional Airmen.
This is how we do: priorities. NCOs know what is important. People are important. What is going on in their lives is important. Development of our Airmen is important. Discipline is important. Fitness is important. Honest, direct feedback and honest evaluations are important. Leadership by example is important. Open communication with Airmen is important. Face-to-face interaction is important.
This is how we do: conviction. NCOs know when to stand up for what we believe — standards, discipline, core values, EPR ratings that are earned. When something needs to be said, NCOs say it. When something needs corrected, NCOs correct it. If someone has earned recognition, NCOs make it happen. We cannot just go with the flow, be silent or ignore problems. Because we stand up for what we believe, inaction is not part of our behavior.
This is how we do: leadership. First, NCOs know leadership is hard work. For every one leader, there are 1,000 critics. This does not deter us. Hard work is expected; hard work is given. There is no room for laziness in good, old-fashioned NCO leadership. Being an NCO is tough, but so what — it wouldn’t be as critical to our Air Force, our mission or our Airmen if it weren’t tough. We earned the promotion because our leadership knew we could do it.
Second, once we’ve proven ourselves up to the challenge, NCOs realize that leadership is a gift given by those that follow. Being in charge and being a leader are not the same thing. NCOs know the difference and we know it is us who determines where we stand. NCOs embrace that leadership isn’t a popularity contest — it is about living up to what it means “to serve” and to be called Sergeant. We know Airmen don’t want a soft leader. They want someone who will push them to be the best they can be, to challenge them, to discipline them, to listen to them and to care about them.
Finally, NCOs use digital as a tool, not a leadership method. NCO leadership is all about one-on-one, face-to-face, daily dialogue with our Airmen. Being an NCO means training them and leading them in person, not by absentee means. Just because it is quicker to send an email or make a phone call does not mean it is the best way to lead.
This is how we do: the Wingman Concept. People are our most valuable resource … period. As the saying goes, people will never care how much you know until they know how much you care. Every Airman has a story — why they chose to serve, what they hope to accomplish, what degree they want to earn, where they want to be assigned. NCOs know those stories because we ask, because we care, because it is part of being an NCO. We know where our Airmen live, who they are married to or dating, what their kids’ names are, if their parents are sick. NCOs care about our Airmen and our Airmen know we are there to help. This is part of developing resilient Airmen for our Air Force.
This is how we do: honor. NCOs know being an NCO means something. It isn’t about the pay. It isn’t about the privileges. It isn’t about the amount of time spent in the Air Force. It means something to be a leader of Airmen and to be entrusted with their development. It means something to be called Sergeant or Shirt or Chief. It means something because of all the great NCOs that have come before us and set the stage. We know we have to live up to all of that.
As NCOs, this is how we do!