Understand deliberate development

  • Published
  • By Cheif Master Sgt. Melvina Smith
  • 71st Mission Support Group superintendent
According to AFI 36-2618, paragraph 5.1.6, senior NCOs must, "Deliberately develop junior enlisted Airmen, NCOs, and fellow Senior NCOs into better followers, leaders, and supervisors."

My Air Force story begins with a senior master sergeant who had a reputation for being extremely strict and mean. My job was to prepare monthly financials. Her job was to tell me if they were right or wrong, and often they were wrong in her eyes.

As the Food Service accountant, I dreaded the calls, and I dreaded her reaction. Every month I hoped she wouldn't find anything wrong, but month after month, as hard as I tried to be perfect, as minor as it was, she would find a discrepancy.

I learned from my mistakes, and eventually my reports became flawless. Instead of cringing when she called, I began to look forward to them; anxious to see if I had met the challenge to create perfect error-free report.

When I would ask how the report was, her silence was golden. I knew then that there were no discrepancies. Her calls significantly decreased, and one month she called me out of the blue. I thought she had found a major issue, but her questions were about me and my career aspirations.

She asked if I was competing for quarterly awards, if was I going to school, did I volunteer, and did I have short- and long-term goals.

Though it didn't seem like it at the time, I realized later that she was reaching out as a mentor, even though she was stationed at different base. 

She recommended participation in private organizations, taking on additional duties, and even volunteering. Every duty and leadership position she recommended was deliberate.

Each position helped me succeed at the next level. That sparked self-development in me. I sought out more opportunities and maintained involvement in the areas she introduced me to.

Additionally, I strived to take on others roles around the base and in the community. It made a difference in my career.

Coincidently, two years later, that very same senior master sergeant became the squadron superintendent at the base where I was assigned, and she continued to develop me as a leader and give me tools for my toolbox.

Deliberate development coupled with self-development is a crucial ingredient for a successful career.

Your supervisor has a responsibility to assist with your career progression. 

Often times you will be challenged to perform at a higher level than your rank or experience. Those who meet these challenges will succeed more often than those who shy away.

I've learned that stepping up to meet challenges that put you outside your comfort zone can be a roadmap for success.

You also have a responsibility-be proactive in your own career. Don't sit back and wait for someone to lead you every step of the way. The Air Force promotes leaders, therefore you must be proactive.

Seek out mentors, draft your map to success, ask for confirmation that you are heading in the right direction, and ensure your goals align with the Air Force goals. For example, enlisted Airmen should finish their Community College of the Air Force degrees.

Finally, lead from the front and set obtainable goals that are measurable.

Are you fulfilling your responsibility of deliberately developing junior enlisted Airmen, NCOs and your peers into better followers, leaders and supervisors?

If not-- then I challenge you to start today!