In November 1992, a new chief master sergeant was assigned to my squadron. It caught all of our units’ Airmen by surprise that the new chief decided to move into the office adjacent to the bathrooms when there were much better locations behind “the glass doors.”
One early afternoon, I walked into the bathroom and on my way back the chief asked me to come into his office to talk. He proceeded to ask me about my life, my family, my hopes and goals. He challenged how I was pursuing my goals and continued on to instruct me on how my decisions could and would affect my future service. The chief re-vectored me on a few of my developmental choices and ended the conversation with “We WILL be doing this again!”
As the chief exclaimed, this became a pattern.
Over the next year or so, he would stop me on my way back from my break for updates. The chief amazed me with his precise recollection of all of the events in my life. He knew names, dates, progresses and shortfalls.
Shortly after my selection to staff sergeant, he called me into his office and said, “Dave, I am going to let you in on a little secret. I keep a close eye on all of my people and try to steer any and all who will listen on a professional development path, but I have a select few that I feel a vested interest in that I feel will go onto great things. The key is … they get that it’s not about you, it’s about us. Dave, you are one of my select few.” I was stunned and really didn’t know how to respond. He went on to say, “You are going to be a chief someday and I will be in your ear to congratulate you.”
A few months later, I was selected for instructor duty and on my last day in the unit, I went into his office.
I asked, “Chief, since I’m leaving can you please tell me how you have developed such a great memory? You know everything about everybody!”
He responded, “Since you will be a fellow chief in the future … here’s the secret,” and he pulled out a Rolodex. You see, every time an Airman would go into the bathroom the chief would review their Rolodex card and when they were heading back to their work area he would stop them, give them a summary of their last conversation and ask for updates. When they were done and they departed he would update their card (in pencil) and wait for the next meeting.
Showing that level of concern and interest in all of his people, that lit my leadership light bulb. I want and strive to be that chief.
One final note: The day I was informed that I had been selected for chief (14 years after his retirement), my cell phone rang and at the other end of the line was my chief. He said, “I told you this would happen. Now remember, it’s not about you, it’s about us!”