SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — In the 19 years I’ve served in the Air Force, I’ve contemplated the quality of the Airman we enlist on numerous occasions.
I’m not saying the entire enlisted force is going down the drain, because it isn’t.
In fact, I feel the quality of our Airmen has actually risen. They are smarter, in many aspects, than we older guys were when we joined. I have personally led a myriad of them that are truly outstanding.
Many of those who were failing didn’t know they were not meeting expectations and there were also many who were failing because they weren’t challenged.
Regardless of whether your Airmen are fast burners or ones that need a lot of guidance, leaders need to find a way to carve out five to 10 minutes daily to talk with each of them. Senior enlisted leaders also need to make time to talk with the officers lead our Airmen. As we know, we don’t enter the Air Force as a master of our careers. It takes time and attention from our leadership to get us to that point.
Without that attention, most will flounder.
Those in leadership positions have an endless list of things-to-do at the beginning of each day. We have everything from Task Management Tool deadlines, reviewing emails that came in after we left the day prior and last-minute, hot requests. With all the tasks on our “To-Do” list, we often find ourselves bogged down in busy work and forget we need to be leaders first. If we strive each day to have those five minutes with each Airman, it will make a huge difference to the overall force.
These brief conversations can be as simple as asking them how their day is going or how their family is. This sincere talk may not seem like mentoring, but it goes a long way in building trust and understanding your Airmen personally. The formal conversations over upcoming PT Tests and CBT training can come later, but establishing and maintaining rapport makes hard discussions — the dreaded midterm feedback — easier to deal with when the time comes.
We don’t need to coddle them and befriend through these conversations, but understanding their backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, what makes them tick, and what can challenge them to the next level is necessary to be an effective mentor.
With a thorough understanding of your Airmen, you will have a better understanding of how to guide them.
By not challenging your Airmen out of their comfort zones, they will inevitably reach a career plateau. Challenging them may be construed as “tough love,” but those Airmen who take the challenge will be pushed to new horizons. A great majority — about 98 percent of those you will supervise in your career will respond well to this type of mentoring. This extra attention and constant feedback and motivation will help them discover their strengths, weaknesses and show them they can be successful on their own — they will truly surprise you.
Our present generation of Airmen is amazing. They simply need your daily guidance to help them thrive in today’s Air Force and become the next generation of Air Force leaders. Once it is your time to leave the Air Force, whether it is through retirement or separation, if you know you helped the 98 percent, two percent or the 100 percent, you will leave an enduring legacy of leadership and success for the next generation of leaders.