Tag Archives: promotion

Book Signing Option

Yesterday a coworker surprised me by asking to buy a copy of my fantasy book, Diffraction. To be honest, those moments are always good encouragement to keep doing this writing thing and not get frustrated by the challenges and difficulties of essentially trying to work a second job.  So maybe I really needed it, or something, because when he jokingly asked for a creative or special signature, I went a touch overboard. 


“I will be both Light and Strength!”
I feel a little bad about the folks who bought a book and got my signature squiggle along with some well-meant but bland “thanks for your support, hope you enjoy the read” standard line. While they got what they paid for, who knows… Someone may have wanted a Lyllithe picture more.

Maybe I should make this an additional purchasing option. Signed books are $15 to people in the States (five bucks covers the shipping and handling). Given the time and effort it took, I feel I could fairly tack on an additional $20 charge for a hand-drawn version.

In any event, it was a fun exercise and a thank-you to someone willing to brighten my day a bit with an unexpected purchase.

Thursday Happies

Normally I have a Thursday Tirade – usually about some facet of leadership and management in the military.

This week, my tirade was DENIED by my Chief Enlisted Manager, our squadron’s Chief Master Sergeant whose job it is to fight for the needs and interests of the enlisted folk.

I’ve been waiting to get some surgery done on my right foot, and the operation has already been scheduled and postponed once due to the needs of the Air Force. For a month or so, the rescheduled surgery date has been awaiting approval. That approval did not come until 7 PM on the night before the surgery was scheduled. And it did not come except for the hard work and effort of my Chief to fight on my behalf.

I anticipated delaying surgery “one more time,” which I’ve learned usually means “several more ‘one more times.'” I even typed up a lovely rant about it. The vent post was sitting on my iPad, ready to publish as soon as I knew for sure that the answer was “no.” But then, after multiple trips back-and-forth to speak to squadron leadership, my Chief walked in and gave a double thumbs-up.

She read the rant and said, “I’m very glad you didn’t have to post this.”

Me too.

In the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of good news about the Air Force, not just related to my self-centered needs. Though I have said in the past that I fear that there is a general decline in the quality of leadership, there are glimmers of hope. While I’ve seen managers who are unwilling or ignorant to the balance between accomplishing the mission and taking care of people, there are still compassionate senior leaders out there.

Last week, we found out who was selected for Senior Master Sergeant, and I saw a friend’s name on the list. Chris is one of the smartest people I know as far as our job is concerned, and he has always been quick to fight the trend toward silly or unsafe decisions in flying operations. He was one of my first supervisors in the Air Force, and he is definitely one of the few who demonstrated that they cared. He did not accept mediocrity, but he also mentored me to show me how to improve.

Another Senior Master Sergeant selectee is a former co-worker and supervisor from my time at Kadena. Steph is also one of the hardest working people with whom I’ve served. She knew how to push our office to succeed and yet ensured we could relax and have fun when mission requirements permitted it. She exemplified our squadron’s unofficial motto of “work hard, play hard,” and she led our office and our squadron to some amazing accomplishments as a result. On the personal level, she fought for me and my needs, but she also fought against my procrastination and laziness to force me to be a better NCO.

My neighbor across the street is also on the selection list. When my family moved across the world from Okinawa to Nebraska, we had no sponsor, no official welcome or assistance with how to find our way around a new base. We moved into our new house on base, and our next-door neighbor literally turned his back and pretended like he did not see us. But not Charlie. He saw me struggling a few days later with the ice and snow that had built up in our driveway, and he immediately came out to help with an ice-breaking tool. He’s the guy who pushes a snow blower around the neighborhood, clearing out driveways and sidewalks for about ten families in addition to his own. In the back of his house, he has a virtual farm of fresh produce growing through the warmer months, and several times this year, he has brought over extra fruit and vegetables to us and to other neighbors because “Hey, what am I going to do with all of this?” He genuinely seems to enjoy helping others.

And yesterday, while sitting with my foot in a splint, I hopped on Facebook to discover that one of the best officers I’ve had the pleasure of serving under just got selected for Colonel. In my experience, John was a no-nonsense leader who knew how to get things done. But more than that, he knew how to prioritize what needed to be done in order for us to succeed, and he tried hard to keep us from dealing with time-wasting projects. He showed great leadership and yet remained approachable.

Is everything great in my little corner of the Air Force? As we deal with sequestration and budget cuts, with aging airframes and low retention rates, with an ever-decreasing pool of experience, it’s definitely become more difficult to keep up with demands. When we get managers that seem to care about nothing more than their next performance report, it’s hard at times to remain motivated.

So it’s with great pleasure that I see some of the future leaders we’re raising up, and it gives me hope.

I don’t have a rant today, and yes, Chief, I’m very happy about that.

Lead By Numbers

credit for photo to ipaintbynumbers.com
You too can create an artistic masterpiece… or not.

A while back, my wife was buying arts and crafts supplies for our children, and she found a Paint By Numbers kit that lets the user create a rough copy of a famous artist’s masterpiece. It was an interesting project for my daughter, who loves all sorts of art. And I appreciate the idea – you can enjoy painting without requiring amazing skill as an artist. Paint By Numbers isn’t “real” art in the sense of something the artist completely creates. Everyone knows that, so no one minds.

But if you try to pass off a Paint By Numbers project as indicative of your artistic talent and creativity, now we have a problem.

That brings us to this week’s Thursday Tirade.

I’m reading a timely book called “Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It’s Time for a Revolution” by Tim Kane.

A former Air Force intel officer and a current economist, Kane looks at what the military does right in developing leaders, and what it does wrong in managing its people. The basic point is that the best and brightest of the military officer corps are leaving at higher rates than anyone expects, and the assumption is that the same is true of the enlisted. Kane makes the case that while the military is attracting better recruits than ever, it is at the same time hemorrhaging them out as soon as the minimum commitment is up.

I can’t imagine why.

There are two problems with the sort of “leadership” that often gets promoted in today’s military.  We emphasize big numbers over real accomplishments, and we demand that future leaders conform to the mold of the past. Paint inside the pre-made lines, please. Don’t worry, we gave you 100% more paint colors than you had before.

We look for metrics and spreadsheets to tell the story of our success, which inherently leads to quantity over quality. Everything must be quantifiable. A “smart” leader knows this, and does whatever it takes to improve key numbers, even at the expense of quality. An upwardly mobile leader knows how to walk the fine line of avoiding by any documented decline in quality while doing everything possible to increase the numbers further. I don’t want to rehash old posts, so… moving on.

Performance reports are functionally useless. The smallest effort can be spun into an amazing “accomplishment” in a report, painting the required pretty picture even though everyone involved knows the individual has no actual talent.

We have a system that encourages checking boxes and telling a good story more than actual decisive leadership and management. There’s a “right” career path, and our young enlisted and officer personnel are told that if you do these things, you will be on the track to swift promotion. We don’t always look back to see the actual performance of the individual. We just look for those key achievements and milestones.

Leaders are judged based on these inflated reports and one-dimensional metrics, but no one considers the human cost involved. Three of the four folks who do my job practically live on painkillers to keep working, because they genuinely love our job. And yet we push harder and try to do more with less. We break individuals because we know we can pull another individual from somewhere else in order to keep getting our quantity and our high rates. Or we ignore people’s needs to meet the mission goal, without realizing that the people are the ones that make the mission successful.

None of this is surprising or new.

And yet the military continues to hang up Paint By Numbers leaders on prominent display in the art gallery. Too often, we reward and promote the managers who do the most harm to their people, because the story the numbers tell looks so good on paper. When the news of an award or promotion creates audible anguish in the form of screams and cries of “WTF” from offices, when individuals at every level question what’s happening and shake their heads in secret, then maybe something important is missing.

Leadership is not a science. There’s no equation for it, no perfect recipe to bake the “leadership” cake. You cannot measure out two cups of reward, plus one cup of discipline, three ounces of compassion and one pinch tenacity.

Leading people is an art form. It takes time and effort to improve. More importantly, it takes compassion for those we lead, and passion for the goal we’re leading them to achieve. Leadership requires vision.

Don’t hang up a Paint By Numbers picture in an art gallery and call it a masterpiece. Likewise, please don’t lead by numbers and call it visionary.