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Commentary Search

November Chief's Perspective

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Charles Bowen
  • 169th Maintenance Squadron

Do we learn from our failures or do we learn from being told how not to fail? Failure is an opportunity to learn and grow but our human nature is to step in and try to prevent failure.  If we as supervisors and trainers always step-in and prevent mistakes, we are robbing the next generation of Airmen from truly learning how to problem solve? Problem solving, failure and growth go hand-in-hand. 

There can be tremendous growth in failure. It allows us to take responsibility, strengthens our response for the next challenge and prepares us to persevere for new risks ahead. We’ve all had well-meaning supervisors step in to prevent a potential mistake, and safety violations will always trump the aspect of learning through failure. But the goal should be teaching new Airmen to become self-reliant in their ability to problem solve.  There’s a magical moment when there is learning and growth. It sticks, it has an emotion attached to it, it has an “a-ha moment.” It’s our job to capitalize on the growth and learning opportunity and to reiterate that failure isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a moment in time to help the Airman with a deeper understanding. Ask, “Where do you think you went wrong?” and “What could have been done differently?” without chastising or being too critical of the failure. I believe one’s failure is the greatest chance for not only personal growth but professional growth that will strengthen our Air Guard. 

Another opportunity for growth could be for us, the supervisors and trainers. Learning to listen to our new Airmen and what they need for greater growth opportunities. We may need to throw the “Training Box” away and become more inventive in how we reach them. Just because “It’s always been done this or that way” doesn’t mean it’s the most productive way to reach or teach our Airmen. There will always be a place in training where we as supervisors and trainers rely on past experiences. However, what do you do when those past experiences stop working? 

In a particularly frustrating situation for me as a supervisor I realized a young Staff Sgt. would always give 100 percent. But at times he just didn’t “get it”.  We, as a section, tried diverse training techniques, different trainers, and even examples. The individual still didn’t get it. We finally came together to discuss what was next. How do we make progress with this valuable member of the team? After all the suggestions and ideas I called the individual in for a one-on-one. I truly wanted to understand how we could help. I asked him to train us on the CFETP task(s), he was having an issue with. It was eye-opening to listen and observe his perception of the CFETP and thus we discovered where he wasn’t understanding. Once we had a paradigm shift in thinking on how training could be conducted better, truly listened and observed the individual who was struggling, we started to see tremendous gains in growth.  And, as a by-product, we also grew as trainers and supervisors. 

It may seem easier as supervisors and trainers to tell trainees how things should be done. But true learning comes from not only the failure but in moving forward as a team and keeping an open-mind, growth mindset in order for our sections to grow and in turn continue the legacy McEntire is known for in producing exemplary Airmen.