By Chief Master Sgt. Mark D. Marson
The old adage “people are your most important asset” is wrong. People are not your most important asset … the right people are.”
~ Jim Collins, Good to Great
For me, it all starts with feedback and a leader’s ability to spot talent. Too often I’m sitting a panel at the Mathies NCOA or some other venue, and the Airmen disclose they haven’t received proper feedback from their supervisors — what a huge injustice!
Providing initial feedback to your Airmen will set the stage for career-broadening and highlight your expectations concerning standards and discipline. You get what you tolerate. Besides, what can you offer your subordinates if you haven’t taken the time to review their portfolio, figure out what they bring to the table, where they best fit in the organization or what areas they need to develop?
As a current or future leader, you may have several positions or options available, and doing your homework will serve your organization well. Make no mistakes about it, as a supervisor, you are getting an informal grade from your team and success largely depends on your ability to “spot talent.”
When fielding a baseball team, a coach considers a myriad of variables, such as who demonstrates the potential to throw the ball fast and hard with accuracy from third to first base — each and every time, or who is agile enough to fill the gap between second and third base. The same goes for your garrison work center or when posturing a team for deployment. Your ability to determine who best fits what role and why will make or break your team.
Specifically, the initial feedback process presents an opportunity to communicate to the member; you’ve looked over their file and noted previous experience, ability, awards and overall talent. This review not only highlights your interest in the member’s career, but also allows you to make an informed decision concerning placement and sets the stage for professional development.
Many senior leaders live by the “Mentor All — Sponsor Few” concept, which means not everyone is going to be the chief. That doesn’t mean you don’t mentor and continue to develop “all” your players to their individual capacity. Everyone is a valued member of the team and deserves coaching. As a supervisor you have the tools and responsibility to help your Airmen succeed.
Remember that spotting talent is the ability to see a person’s potential. There are those who believe people are born leaders and those who believe people are developed into leaders. I personally feel it’s a little of both, but am certain unless you set your standards high and insist your people measure up, you’ll never know what they are capable of.
When formally and informally evaluating your people, consider the following themes outlined by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz in his “The Chemistry of Leadership” address to the U.S. Treasury department:
Character Counts … leaders with character have vision—they’re tenacious;
Leadership isn’t about moving paper;
Accountability … are good intentions good enough?
Leaders should be held accountable for organizational shortcomings; and
A change in leadership is sometimes the appropriate path.
The bottom line is: “experienced, operational leaders are skilled at merging their subordinates’ talents, skills and resources to most effectively accomplish the mission”. As the leader, you owe it to your subordinates to develop their leadership and management skills in preparation for expanded responsibilities and higher leadership positions. Take an interest, mentor your people and conduct your feedback sessions as charged!