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Commentary Search

February Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Maj. Ralph Cole, Jr.
  • 169th Force Support Squadron

Continuing Resolutions, ops tempo, additional duties, mandatory requirements... The list goes on and on. The challenges to today's Airmen seem to be never ending, and there is concern that retention could be negatively impacted, while we continue this extremely fast pace. As leaders, we are entrusted to enable our Airmen and equip them with the tools needed to accomplish the mission. In a time filled with so many requirements, how can we ensure success in this essential responsibility?  


A mentor and friend of mine developed a leadership and coaching model. A key component of that model is what he calls “The Narrative,” or storyline, between a leader and a follower. It has been said that you have to know your employees, but how well do we really know them, their desires, their beliefs, and their goals, professional and personal? The Harvard Business Review recently published an article, Why Workers Quit. In the article they mention the old adage that people “don’t quit their jobs - they quit their bosses.” However, the primary focus is an example from Facebook, where they were finding that the decision to leave was being made due to the work itself, stating simply, “They left when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, and they weren’t growing in their careers.” This example lets us learn that people want to grow in their careers and leave when that doesn't happen. 


So how do leaders find the strengths of the people in their organizations and truly learn about their goals and ambitions? Develop and understand the narrative. Often times when the ops tempo ramps up or businesses get extremely busy, the narrative is such that the leader and the follower are facing away from each other and merely just speaking, but not hearing or engaging in meaningful dialogue. It is important to remember we do not see the world as it is - rather, we see through our own, developed lens. Each situation, positive or otherwise, is influenced by our own narrative(s). Nothing exists outside of context. Your narrative (story) influences EVERY situation. It is also important to remember the leader and follower bring their own narratives (stories) to each encounter. Once we as leaders engage our Airmen and understand their narrative, we can begin to share our narrative and expectations. Once each narrative is explored and understood, the door for establishing and managing expectations is wide open and the stage is set for mentoring, coaching, conflict management, etc. Additionally, it sets the stage to build a trust that is extremely critical to our mission in the military. One item of note is that this conversation does not always have to be initiated by the leader, but when it is, it is more effective.


To be sure, the narrative may not be accomplished in one sit-down conversation. It is extremely difficult for two people that are able to make the time, and develop the trust and commitment to share and understand their narratives right from the start. Start by asking yourself simple enough questions (and be truthful). Do you know what is expected of you in your leadership role? Do your followers know what is expected of them in their various roles? How do you know?


We face generational diversity in our current force, like never before. We have members in age from 18 to 60 years old. We hear about how difficult it is to communicate across these generational gaps, but is it really that difficult? By taking the time to understand what each person’s expectations and goals are, we can easily cross these ‘difficult’ gaps, WITHOUT losing focus that we are in the military and have a national defense mission that our citizens rely on us to accomplish. The Air National Guard is looking to grow the force, but not so much that we are all of a sudden going to be flush with resources. Therefore, we need to make sure that every single Airman on the team contributes to their max potential -- incorporating their strengths and ambitions into ensuring we accomplish every mission that is asked of us by our nation.  


Developing and understanding the narrative can help in so many aspects and create levels of accountability that we may not ever have thought possible. Just as all the players of a football team have to come together in all aspects of the game to win a championship, we will continue to come together to serve the nation at the tip of the spear and continue the excellence the Swamp Fox has built its reputation upon.  Semper Primus!