Growing up in the 1980s, every day after school the only cartoon on TV was Scooby Doo.
The ending of every episode was always the same. Scoobs and the gang would unmask some evil person and the same phrase was uttered every time: “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”
Unfortunately, I hear similar phrases uttered from Air Force Leaders these days in reference to younger Airmen. “Darn Airmen these days — Always on their devices. They can’t communicate or have a face-to-face conversation, don’t respect authority, don’t ever leave their dorm rooms and don’t know what hard work is. They are not very resilient, don’t handle stress well and don’t know how to have a stable relationship.”
Have you said any of those phrases lately? I hear this from many of my peers and it’s definitely tempting to say when an Airman doesn’t live up to Air Force standards. The irony is, I hear this from many mid-level leaders (technical and staff sergeants) who are not that far removed from the young Airmen they are denigrating.
Growing up, I heard similar phrases from my parents: “Why don’t you stop watching television and go outside and play? Kids these days — Always glued to the television.” I heard similar statements from Air Force Academy Graduates when I was a cadet. “Back when I was at the Academy, we had it tough. You guys have no idea how hard it was and you guys are a bunch of softies.” But to me, my Academy experience was extremely challenging and I didn’t know any different.
I think, if you went back in history, almost every previous generation said something similar about those that followed behind. Can you imagine what it was like to be the generation following those that fought World War II? Can you imagine what it was like to be in the U.S. military after the Vietnam War, when all of your leadership had been through years of brutal jungle warfare, and all you have done is “fought” the Cold War by sitting in Germany and doing training exercises? But those “Cold Warriors” knew nothing different and their work was just as important and challenging as the previous generation.
Here’s my challenge to you: Don’t use the phrase, “Darn Airmen these days” as a crutch to be a poor leader. Yes, the Airmen of today love their smart phones. Yes, they communicate differently than many of us. Yes, it’s sometimes challenging to find out what motivates them. But many of them have known war, combat operations and continuous deployments their entire careers. They have all volunteered. They are some of the most innovative thinkers who are much more comfortable with technology than many of us. They also have great ideas about how to do things better and it’s our job as leadership to learn to communicate with them, to teach them ways in which they learn, to teach them our Core Values in a way that relates to them, to listen to them, to learn from them and to motivate them.
So next time you find yourself at the end of a Scooby Doo episode at work and you hear the phrase, “Darn Airmen of today,” or are tempted to say it yourself, think about how to lead and motivate the Airmen of today better, rather than just complaining about them.