Mentoring through crisis: Creech Airman shares leadership advice

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CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Last year I attended the Global Leadership Summit through simulcast where I heard from numerous influential leaders.  One address that stood out to me as a new NCO and supervisor was given by Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric.
He said that one of the best pieces of advice that he could give a young leader is to deal with a crisis early in one’s career. That generates the question, “How can being involved in a crisis be a positive experience?”
When presented with a crisis, our instinctual actions seem to be to mitigate the damage, isolate individuals or leaders at the affected level to develop a solution, and communicate the results to affected personnel. This approach, when utilized in this manner, tends to miss important mentorship and development opportunities.
If a goal of a leader is to develop subordinates who are trained, skilled and confident for the challenge of leadership, then subordinates should be exposed to both positive and negative experiences associated with responsibility. Encountering a crisis early in a career ensures a subordinate has the protective umbrella of experienced supervisors and mentors to aid in recovery, rather than waiting until the individual is in a position of responsibility with high expectations and little experience.
Unexpected and unplanned events happen in an instant, so being prepared to deal with the any unrest is critical. The specific framework that I use as a supervisor to mentor subordinates through crisis is the REPEAT model.

R: Recognizing a problem
Once a problem is recognized, notify affected personnel and leadership. Articulate the problem in terms subordinates understand. Ensure personal and professional needs are met. If the problem was reported by the subordinate, recognize their honesty and courage.

E: Evaluate the impact
Thoroughly examining the consequences of a problem is a vital step toward effectively articulating the stakes. Without knowing the stakes, a leader could omit a critical motivator driving subordinates’ willingness to embrace change. Ensure your subordinates know the relevant directives, plans, syllabus or other products and allow them to aid in researching the problem’s impact within their areas.

P: Prepare a solution
Armed with the awareness of a problem, relevant directives and associated consequences, subordinates can monitor and assist with the development of a solution. Example activities for the subordinate range from attending leadership meetings as a note-taker, drafting new policy memorandums based on provided outlines, and researching the impact on the subordinate’s work center. For personal matters, the mentor may review resource options, schedule changes, or renew focus on improving performance towards an end goal.  Ensure goals are set and scheduled to be reviewed at specific intervals.

E: Execute the plan
By involving and empowering subordinates through the first three steps, the leader will, ideally, have developed the subordinate into a stakeholder and create sufficient motivation to execute the plan.  Communication, encouragement and support will be critical to ensuring the plan meets the desired targets.

A: Assess results
Engage with subordinates at the specified intervals to assess performance. When possible, provide them with critical questions and allow them to perform their own analysis to engage them with the overall process. If improvements can be made, encourage them to perform the previous steps and compare your solution to theirs as a development opportunity.

T: Tweak the process
As a new process becomes the norm, it might become easy for complacency to set in.  Empower subordinates as sub-process or project owners and rotate tasks. Maintain open communication to ensure that subordinates are comfortable approaching you with emerging issues. Recognize milestones or accomplishments. Ensure continuity has been provided for leadership and personnel changes.
It is important for leaders not to miss opportunities to develop their subordinates. Allowing a subordinate to encounter a crisis and participate in creating the framework for recovery will develop critical resilience, experience and confidence required of future leadership.

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