MAXWELL-GUNTER AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
I am an Active Guard-Reserve member with the 689th Network Operations Squadron, here, and currently the flight lead for our cyber warfare operators and cryptologic analysis & report members. I served 13 years as an active-duty Airman in the Fuels, Petroleum Oil & Lubricants career field, also known as POL, before joining the Air Force Reserve as a cyber warfare operator.
While there are numerous differences between active duty and the Reserve, the most difficult hurdle for me has been the consolidated timeline I have to be a successful and effective leader. As a supervisor while on active duty, I had my Airmen eight to 12 hours a day, five to six days a week. As a reservist, I may only have minutes with them during the monthly unit training assembly weekend.
From my perspective, I had all the time in the world when I was active duty. I do not mean to imply that active-duty members have it easier; but the time I had with my subordinates was vast in comparison to the time I have with my traditional Reserve Airmen.
Working together every day allowed relationships to grow organically and trust to be earned through our shared experiences and over time. The timeline allowed me to make an impact and allowed me to be effective, but I could afford missteps every now and then since there was time to fix and mend. Relationships have time to blossom in the active-duty Air Force, but in the Reserve you may not be afforded this luxury.
In the Reserve, minutes matter. A busy unit training assembly may only grant me five minutes of full undivided attention to one of my troops. As a master sergeant and section chief, I am responsible for over 30 Airmen; each of whom has a life and unique circumstances that may need my attention.
Even if I could fully devote the entire drill weekend to one-on-one time with 30 Airmen, this only equates to 32 minutes for each of them. What does this mean for reservists? Should we shake our heads in defeat? No, but it does mean that minutes matter.
Through my time in the Reserve, the keys I have found to making minutes matter are positivity, respect, writing things down, following-up and knowing you can’t do it all.
Greeting subordinates with a positive attitude and tackling issues with vigor can be infectious. As you ascend in rank, your influence grows. A simple smile can change the direction of an interaction and it can open up lines of communication. Sometimes you can even fool yourself into thinking you are in a good mood.
Jokes aside, I have benefited from relying on positivity to sell changes, increase dialogue and, as I said before, positivity can be spread just as fast as a negative attitude.
It may seem strange to hear that everyone should be treated with respect because we like to think this is inherent. Unfortunately, it is not.
This may be due to rank or other issues, but I adhere to the “give respect to get respect” adage. I use “ma’am” and “sir” regardless if I’m talking to a young Airman or a major. This promotes a professional environment, as well as cultivating buy-in from subordinates.
Reserve and Guard members sometimes have a habit of falling into familiarity and discarding military tradition by using first names. I believe that respect should be afforded to everyone, regardless of rank, so in essence I agree with aspects of this familiarity. Employing “universal respect” and using “ma’am” and “sir” safeguards Airmen and enhances the climate.
WRITE IT DOWN
We love to tote that we can multi-task and we tend to believe our minds are steel traps. When I was in POL we used to say you had to be an octopus with multiple hands juggling various things. More often this leads to missing something. In the Reserve, it is usually a troop issue.
Write it down. Make a checklist, set a reminder, or whatever you need to do so that their concerns are not missed. I’ve heard it said that if you go to a meeting without a note pad then you are not prepared; you will not remember everything.
So you welcomed your Airman with a smile, had a great conversation full of respect and wrote down their issues. However, the follow-up is where your troop will begin to trust you. If you say you are going to do something, do it. How frustrating is it waiting for an answer? Even if the answer is that you need more time, this expresses that the issue was not ignored or forgotten.
YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL
The final key calls for you to share the load. Delegate tasks, ask for help and let someone know when you are at your limit. All of the keys I spoke about are to assist you in building trust and a strong team. Sharing the load will fortify the relationships you have with your peers, supervisors and subordinates.
I have members that I have delegated duties to who were thankful for the opportunity. Use proper judgement and do not assign tasks that will make them sink; but all of us are part of a team, flight, squadron, group and wing. We are grouped this way because there is no one that is capable of doing it all.
With such a brief time to make an impact, do everything you can to make that experience a successful one. Bear in mind, you will have time to course correct if your first impression was poor, but this may be 30 days later at the next UTA.
Sulking in thoughts that their issues are not important or they are not valued will fester in the mind of your troop and spoil their trust. Using the keys I provided are not the end-all-be-all of leadership, but they are factors that have helped me during my time as a reservist.
One of my mentors always used to say, “Trust but verify.” I trust that you all have good intentions, but do not wait for a unit climate assessment to come to verify you are an effective and appropriate leader. Take control by being positive, sharing respect, writing things down, follow-up, and remembering you are not on an island and you can share the load.