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January Commander's Corner

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Bell, 169th Maintenance Squadron commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, Jan. 5, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Lt. Col. James St.Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Bell, 169th Maintenance Squadron commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, Jan. 5, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Lt. Col. James St.Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

As 2020 came to an end, so did my tenure as the 169th Maintenance Squadron commander. It’s hard to believe how fast the past two and a half years have passed.  Over the holidays I’ve been reflecting on a few simple lessons I learned that I’d like to share.

1. I recently heard Chief Master Sgt. Peelman say, “every day is a job interview.” This applies to everyone from the newest trainee to commanders. Whether we realize it or not, we’re always being evaluated by peers and leadership. Sharp personal appearance, timeliness, high quality of work, attention to detail and initiative are traits that are admired and noticed by all. Always put 100 percent effort into these characteristics and you’ll be in good shape as your career progresses.

2. An unfortunate part of command are situations when discipline needs to be applied to a member. A commander should be familiar with the Federal Technician Handbook and the Technician Personnel Regulation 752. It’s also advisable to meet the labor relations specialist in the human resources office who will work with you when dealing with Technician personnel issues. Get to know the folks in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) office as well. The 169FW is blessed to have some outstanding legal professionals in the JAG office who will assist 24/7. Also, don’t be afraid to do what is in the best interest for your organization and McEntire. Wing leadership will back you 100 percent.

3. The best way to ruin a great employee is tolerate a bad one. I didn’t come up with this quote. But I endorse it wholeheartedly. One bad employee can ruin the culture in a shop and is similar to a cancer that spreads throughout the body. These individuals deserve a chance to correct deficiencies and be a productive part of the team. If they don’t change, then it’s in the best interest of the organization that they seek employment elsewhere.

4. The importance for shop supervisors to groom their replacements can’t be overstated. A shop needs a strong leader to run effectively over the long term. If a particular shop supervisor goes out for any reason, the work and the mission don’t stop and someone has to step up and take the reins. A shop without a good leader is like a rudderless ship without direction. Fortunately, I had the benefit of having outstanding shop supervisors who know the value of delegating responsibility and setting their shop up for success. The added benefit is when it’s time for the current shop supervisor to move on, his or her replacement is already trained and the learning curve is minimal.

5. Don’t micro manage. Give your Chiefs and shop supervisors a vector and then get out their way. They have the pulse of what’s happening in their sections. This develops trust and gives freedom to develop independent thinking and leadership skills. Maintain oversight and trust, but verify. Your supervisor team will appreciate this.

The lessons learned above have two common themes – communication and attitude. In 2008, I deployed to Balad AB in Iraq for a six month tour in the Intel shop where I worked for one of the sharpest officers I’ve ever met. He had a phrase he always quoted – “communication is key, attitude is everything.”  I’ve stolen his quote and used it in briefings, meetings and roll calls. Clear, concise communication eliminates confusion and gives direction. Don’t rely entirely on email. Sometimes technology fails or the meaning gets lost in translation. Follow up with a phone call or a face to face meeting.  A positive, can-do attitude is contagious and influences people to go above and beyond in their daily duties, during inspections and while deployed. Communication and attitude aren’t cosmic concepts. But they are essential to running a successful organization. I wish everyone a healthy and successful New Year.