June Commander's Column
By Maj. Walter Hummel, 245th Air Traffic Control Squadron
/ Published May 12, 2014
MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- Greetings Swamp Fox! This is my first Commander's Corner article so I hope I can be a fraction as informative as some to the recent articles I have seen in this space. As an old dude (25yrs), but new commander, I am not only amazed by the number of new faces that I see on McEntire every day, but also the sheer numbers of youth serving today. I have more Airmen First Class in my unit than I have ever seen in my career. This demographic reality presents a new set of challenges and opportunities for leaders in the SCANG.
According to a 2010 Pew Research study, the majority of the population breaks down into the familiar "Silent/Greatest Generation," "Baby Boomers," "Generation X'ers" and the "Millennials," (sometimes called "Generation Next" by soft drink companies). The military is primarily made of the last three. Boomers are the group born between 1946-1964. They value structure, work ethic and top-down authority models of leadership. Gen X is the 1965-1980 segment. We are the latch-key kids, an independent, direct-feedback and "get me on my way" kind of group. Finally, the Millennials include everyone born after 1980. This group is technologically savvy, and has been raised in the "you can be anything" construct.
Leadership must constantly strive to understand the changes in our personnel. It was extremely prescient when one of my Airmen verified the adage that Millennials work to live, not live to work. This is borne out by the Pew study as well. Millennials want to improve the enjoyment of life for themselves and others. The connections they derive from social media fulfill their community needs and can become a significant avenue for us as leaders to connect with our people.
Motivation of Millennials comes from inclusion and making sure they understand how their contribution helps. (Expect to answer the question "Why?" more often). Other sources show flexibility is more valued than the rigidity that we Gen X'ers prefer. This gives us another angle on diversity in that harnessing these differences can enable these Airmen to provide us with a different product or approach than we would have taken. Feedback processes for Millennials work better if they are conducted as immediately as possible and should highlight positives rather than reading a litany of "opportunities for improvement." We know things will not always fit into this construct, but if this knowledge causes us to modify our natural reactions, it may yield a more positive result for the unit on occasion. Changing our approach matters because some sources state almost 75 percent of the Air Force today is made of Millennials. Some things we as leaders can consider:
1. Communicate Better! Leaders cannot keep the vision and direction of the unit all in their head. This requires efficient communication with the unit members. The generational peculiarities noted above reduce the efficiency of that communication process unless we attack it head on. According to Pew, 75 percent of Millennials use social media frequently (shocker), and over 83 percent sleep with their cell phone nearby the bed. While we must be mindful of PII issues, we may be missing out on efficiencies that speak directly to our younger members. Additional evidence shows Millennials do not prefer large group information transmission (Commander Call) but rather instantaneous, electronic data transfer. Our challenge is to strike an efficient balance between those preferences and the traditional military organizational structure.
2. Right Person, Right Job, Right Time! This is a line stolen from Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., The Adjutant General of South Carolina, during Change of Command this past UTA. We must constantly be on the lookout for valuable talent in our younger Airmen. Natural progression will help make them the next Chiefs or Colonels but providing the opportunities to demonstrate capabilities and leadership even in smaller jobs NOW can help "right track" these people faster than normal and make them feel more included. Too frequently in the Guard we require "a little more time" before giving people responsibility commensurate with their rank.