Making Freshman mistakes at the Senior level

“A mistake at least proves that somebody stopped talking long enough to do something.” In this episode, I share my recent failures as a Colonel that I should’ve known better than to not repeat. I’ve made similar mistakes early in my career, and the simple remedies for each mistake still apply at the current stage of my career. If you’re not learning, you’re losing.

Within my first year serving as a Colonel…I’ve learned a lot. Mainly because I’ve been making mistakes. Freshman types of mistakes at my new Senior level that I should’ve known to see ahead of time and not repeat from my younger days. Here are the three observations #IYKYK that I’ve come across and I’m actively working to remedy.

Not communicating decisions/info at multiple levels – When you hear people say they are shaking their fists in anger at the people in the tall ivory tower making decisions when they have no idea what’s going on, you’re probably like “Fk Yeah! Those guys/gals suck!” Or perhaps the sentiment is more like “What the @^$# are they doing up there?! Can someone please tell me what’s going on?!” I’ve been there on several occasions, I’m sure you have too. However, now I happen to be in the top position wondering why everyone isn’t staying current with the work we are accomplishing for the field. Some of that work may not be satisfying speed-wise, but we must still operate within the systems we have built ourselves. Regardless, I’ve realized that we need to do a much better job socializing, marketing, and distributing information that captures our decisions and discussions as Lead Command (one of the aforementioned “ivory towers”). And that doesn’t mean just typing an email with an outdated distribution list, hitting send, and calling it a day. Communication is a constant effort and should be accomplished cleanly and in multiple forms. The written word, visuals, and spoken word at briefings, all of these communication methods must be carefully crafted to keep messaging unified and understood. Instead of ignoring those fists being shaken in our direction, we should be aiming to inform them so that dialogue can be engaged to ensure the team at large can execute mission command. Provide enough information at the right time for each level within the organization to take purposeful action. 

Purchase your limited edition #CSWS patch now!

Not representing the team properly at more significant engagements – When I first joined the team at Air Combat Command, I was told that my schedule would be jam-packed with meetings. I’m generally allergic to meetings, so I carved many of them out of my battle rhythm and waited to see if anyone complained that I wasn’t there. Once I received that contact, I could then have a conversation on whether not I was really needed there or if it was more of a convenience for me to be there. I was (and still am) very protective of my time to ensure I don’t get burned out or make myself unavailable to my team and my family. However, when I made those cuts…I also missed out on understanding how each engagement builds on one another to deliver results in the bigger picture. For example, I am often the sole “6” presence at a meeting. Within a room full of O6s, I have to be there to represent our team properly with the equivalent level of rank/authority. I didn’t ask for that; it is what it is. I’ve seen it before but didn’t realize how important that eagle on my rank would serve our team. In addition, I didn’t realize how my position as ACC/A6O (not me individually, but as a representative of the Lead Command team) was viewed as an authoritative voice in the community. If I said something, it meant something. If you’ve worked with me, you’ve heard me say that I want to “use my powers for good.” Those powers are temporarily bestowed on me because I happened to be selected to serve in this position. This responsibility is significantly more important than my previous command positions, mainly due to the level of impact my inputs can provide. I’ve slowly learned that I need to embrace the engagements I’m involved in because I can help make a difference.

Not recognizing an opportunity to make progress with my teammates – As covered in the previous episode (Can you lead as a Lone Wolf?), I have tendencies to need quiet time alone to work my thoughts out. Staying focused on one task can sometimes be tough for me, especially with the amount of responsibility our team has. I didn’t realize early on that this type of dedicated and focused time also needed to be applied to my teammates, specifically at my peer level. Instead of communicating via email (which rarely is efficient) or at a larger battle rhythm event (where multiple voices are competing to speak/listen to each other), having one-on-one discussions with them actually cut through tons of churn. These consistent check-ins with each other actually helped smooth some of the waves at the subordinate level within the team because we were able to quickly clarify perspectives and then spread a unified message out for action. Instead of solely trying to make progress as an individual, I made time to make progress as a team. This level of Freshman mistake is so simple that I can’t believe I overlooked it. After correcting this mistake, I truly believe that we are now making the progress we are capable of as a team and we will continue to elevate our performance with and not in spite of each other.