BLUF – Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.
This week I saw my last performance report from my second squadron command tour. I was informed by one of my mentors that the second performance report of your command tour is considered the “launching pad” to set you up for the next level of leadership, and in my heart, I felt ready for the next level of challenge.
Here is what I earned:
Rater: Aced Sq/CC with ease; innovative, driven team leader who led squadron to peak results–send to SDE then Gp/CC!
Additional Rater: Top 20% of ABW Lt Cols; visionary cyber leader, easily the best I’ve seen in 22 yrs–Grp/CC following in-res SDE
For context, here is what I earned from my first year:
Rater: Best seen CS/CC in 24 years; courage/leadership define him; confronts issues others avoid; SDE then tough Gp/CC!
Additional Rater: #6/52 ABW Lt Cols; FY18 11 AF Info Dom Lg CS unit awd; tech savvy, mission focused leader–SDE then Gp/CC
If you do the math, you’ll notice I was rated lower during my second year. From my perspective, getting rated lower means you have not increased your performance. In fact, your performance has not improved but degraded. My thoughts of being prepared for the next level of leadership slowly diminished as I read these words. I drowned in my own thoughts for roughly 48 hours because I was sent my OPR for signature through VPC, which is possibly the most impersonal method devised ever. No heads up email or text from anyone, just a system telling me I have something to sign. I did recently PCS from my previous base, but still, we have multiple communication methods for a reason. After speaking to my supervisor (who admitted I should have been informed by him, not the system, that my OPR was ready and we needed to chat; he’ll be talking to the wing front office), he gave me the additional context to help me understand why I earned this evaluation.
The phrase “make decisions your rank can survive” is another way of stating that each decision you make will directly affect your career. Without going into specific details, I made a round of decisions where I stood my ground as functional lead on an issue and projected an image of inflexible leadership and non-compromise within a team environment. These decisions escalated to include personnel equal to or higher in rank than me to get involved, which pushed my emotional buttons because the situation felt like it was morphing into “we will prove gaberock and his team wrong” versus “this is what is right” (My previous post Leaders Never Leave the Front provides more insight on how I handled the situation). I lost my cool on several occasions, both in person and over e-mail (yep, I went into frantic Kermit-typing mode and hit send, not delete!). The decisions that I made where I believed my rank would survive had second and third-order effects on relationships above my rank, which is something I did not include in my calculus and I should have. The military will always be a team sport and rarely will individual decisions you make not have an effect on the team at large. This situation was a crucible for my squadron and we emerged even stronger as a team, yet my personal career was now at risk.
These decisions ended up casting doubt on my leadership potential and overshadowed the successes of the rest of my command tour. My supervisor told me there were also discussions on whether or not I should be an O-6 or Group Commander. I’ve never heard once over my career that I wasn’t ready for the next level of leadership, but never say never. Making O-6 has been a career goal since the first day I took the Oath of Office, and to advance my career this far only to have my potential questioned was a punch in the face. I was never under consideration for being removed from command, but the idea that a ceiling could be potentially placed on the advancement of my career terrifies me. The factors I need to improve are 1) understanding and applying better teamwork techniques at higher levels of leadership and 2) reducing my leadership hubris. Upfront, I believe I’ve been working on this since I’ve become a Field Grade Officer, but now I have immediate feedback that I need to #JustDoBetter and put these words into action.
I poured my heart and soul into my job as a squadron commander. I tried to be the best teammate to my peers and any other mission partner I encountered. Over my tour I voraciously defended and advanced my squadron through one of the most critical transition periods of our careers, wasn’t afraid of hard work and expected the same from my team, and stand by all of the decisions I made (hubris?) because I learned from all of them. So…
Do I feel ready for the next level of leadership? Yes.
Am I a confident leader who believes in operating from a foundation of “leading by example by doing what’s right” above “doing things that cause the least amount of waves”? Yes.
Am I inflexible in my leadership style? No, I try to grow my style daily from multiple angles of life.
Do I have room for improvement? We all do.
Over time we will see which version of gaberock will define my legacy as an officer and leader. My next job will benefit from having the highly motivated version of gaberock who will work harder than any previous version. Graduated squadron commander for the second time? No one cares. Think you are advancing your functional community? Prove it in the joint environment. Didn’t get what you wanted on your evaluation? Work your ass off every day to prove your mettle. In the end, I have to remember that this singular evaluation is not the sole definition of me. Come see me in person, see how I lead, and come to your own conclusion. I’ll be the handsome guy who is outworking everyone in the room with a smile on my face, memes in my pocket, and moving my team beyond what they think they can achieve.