Where is my trophy?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Mark Aman
  • 71st Mission Support Group superintendent
Finally, winter is over and with the arrival of spring comes camping, barbequing and most important, spring training.

Opening day means that summer-league baseball tryouts are right around the corner. Well, at least that's the way it was when I was growing up. Nowadays, tryouts are a thing of the past. Everyone makes the team, everyone gets to play and everyone gets a trophy.

We have taken out the drive of competition and satisfaction of accomplishment and replaced it with a neutralized, sterilized, passive outdoor activity. Baseball has fallen prey to society's need to make everything politically correct. It turns out that society's nearsightedness has had some unintended long-term consequences.

Our children are not learning the coping skills needed to deal with setbacks and disappointment. These skills are much harder to learn after mediocrity has been engrained in them as the acceptable, even expected level of effort required to successfully perform any given task.

Showing up is good enough. We reward and reinforce this mind set with a participation trophy. It is no wonder more children are being seen by a psychologist today than ever in our history. We might have taken this "kinder, gentler society" too far.

We witness an example of this when Airmen articulate their belief that they deserve a fire-wall five. We reinforce this belief by inflating our performance evaluation system and giving -- that's right, giving -- them a five.

I completely agree with our senior leaders when they say our performance evaluation system is not broken, but the way we utilize it is. I believe that until each of us improves the performance feedback we give our Airmen, we will continue to inflate the performance evaluation system.

We prefer to be our subordinate's friend than to be their fair and objective supervisor. We place too much emphasis on our subordinates liking us. We are more concerned with the personal side and less concerned with the professional side of an issue.

We are taught in our professional military education the right way to lead and evaluate our Airmen. But somewhere between the class room and real life we fold to the overwhelming temptation to take the easier road -- the path with less conflict, the one that requires less effort.

In the short term you may find this approach to be effective, and as long as you have plenty of manning and the job is being accomplished without additional effort or overtime you will probably be successful. If this describes your work center, you're the only one in the entire Air Force that is only working 40 hours a week. More than likely you are working 50 to 60 hours a week, which means you need to be performing very efficiently.

Your Airmen will not listen to you or respect you more because you are lenient or because they like you. A good supervisor, one that balances management and leadership, understands the importance of balancing mission needs with the needs of their people. This does not mean giving in to your subordinates or accepting subpar performance. It means setting and enforcing performance standards.

We do not have the time to simply meet minimum standards. We must far exceed minimum requirements to prevent us from wasting time reaccomplishing a task. It all starts with the supervisor giving outstanding performance feedback, setting very specific expectations, and monitoring compliance.

Make sure your Airmen know how well they are meeting your expectations. Make sure your Airmen understand that doing only what they are told is not good enough. They need to take the initiative to exceed expectations. As a supervisor; don't wait six months to inform your Airmen they are not meeting your expectations. Don't wait six months to inform your Airmen that your expectations have changed.

In the absence of direction and leadership, most people will only do what it takes to stay off of your radar. That is not acceptable behavior. There are more people wanting to join the Air Force or wanting to reenlist than there are positions available. As a result, we are in the position to accept and retain only the best and brightest.

There are no participation trophies available here. We only recognize our best -- Airmen that continuously go above and beyond, far exceeding minimum requirements. It is our responsibility as Air Force leaders to show our Airmen what "right" looks like. To tell them what it takes to be successful, to correct their actions when they stray from our expectations and to recognize their success and achievement through awards, decorations -- or even a trophy.