COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
During a recent Airman Leadership School Chief’s panel, we asked the future NCO leaders of our Air Force what issues they were facing in their units at the shop level.
One Airman mentioned there seemed to be a feeling of “negative competition.”
He went on to explain the Airmen he worked with were not friends nor did they help each other out in the shop like they used to. There was a general feeling Airmen were pushed to be too competitive and out for themselves and no longer concerned with the other people they worked with; others in the room nodded their heads in agreement.
This was not the first time I have heard this from our Airmen. My heart broke that day. In almost 22 years in our great Air Force, I can honestly say I haven’t succeeded or accomplished any of my goals without teamwork and the support of others. This holds true in both my personal and professional life.
In my personal life, my family works as a team to accomplish our domestic tasks. My parents have stepped in to take care of my children when I’ve deployed at the same time as my spouse and gone TDY for extended training. My husband helps juggle daily parenting demands with our career schedules and is my wingman. There is absolutely no way I would be a chief today without my family and their support and teamwork.
Teamwork is even more prevalent in my work life and has been since the day I joined the Air Force.
I think back to basic training, my first test to determine if I was cut out for the unique demands a career in the Air Force places on you. I’m sure I am not unique in saying we leaned on each other to accomplish tasks such as cleaning our dorm, learning drill, studying, keeping each other awake during class, fitness and more. I know I definitely would not have completed it successfully if I hadn’t learned how to function in a team.
Arriving to my unit and my first job in the Air Force, my new co-workers eagerly showed me the ropes. They corrected me when I made mistakes and patted me on the back when I did a great job. We worked tirelessly, cared about each other, and played hard together side by side as a team.
In Airman Leadership School, you rely on the assistance of your classmates to help you through. The best writers, help those who are not as good. Those who understand the material first, hold study groups to ensure others understand. The excellent speakers help those who struggle with public speaking. The goal is always to get everyone to graduation in six weeks. You bond quickly and function as a team.
Even today, as a Chief I am still not accomplishing anything on my own. I am proud to be the superintendent for some of the best medics I have ever had the pleasure of working with here, but we cannot provide excellent healthcare to our patients, or groom and develop each other without caring for each other and functioning as a team.
Some Airmen blame forced distribution and some of the changes to the Enlisted Evaluation System for the culture shift. However, I venture to say although there have been significant changes to the system itself, the way we evaluate and recognize performance hasn’t changed.
Airmen have always been rated against peers when it comes to mission accomplishment and job performance. You have always been encouraged to embody the Whole Airman Concept. Those who found successful ways to do this and be the best at their job, have always been recognized with awards, promoted earlier and given other leadership opportunities.
However, I believe the mark of a true leader is measured by how successful their team is. A good team leaves its mark. Not only does the leader shine, but the other members of the team shine. They all know what is going on in the section, they all know where their teammate is and are loyal and support each other. Each member of that team takes ownership and pride in their team and fear doing anything subpar that would let their teammates down.
It’s great if you win an award for performance, but the true leader will win awards and so will others in his or her unit. They lead the way and bring others with them.
It is and has always been ingrained in us to be good teammates. Don’t let promotion desires or allocation boards change that. Stay true to your team and those things will all come. Those who have paved the way before you all have one thing in common. At every step of their career, it was always teamwork that made them and will (still) make you successful.