Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Four guides to success

Commentary by Chief Master Sgt. Jon Jefferson
673d Communications Squadron


11/21/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Just like life, a military career is a journey. As we travel down the road of our career and life, we first need to have one or more destinations in mind. These destinations are the milestones and goals we set for ourselves.

Without something to shoot for, progress is haphazard, slower than it should be, or nonexistent. That can lead to missing out on opportunities, dissatisfaction, or in the worst case an end to our career for not meeting expectations. During my career, my ability to regularly and consistently follow four principles or guides has allowed me to navigate through the challenges to reach many of my professional and life goals.

The four principles are have the right attitude, be better each day, focus on the team, and find a balance

Have the  right attitude
We need to approach each day with desire and effort, and in a positive manner.
Treat your career as more than a job; embrace it as a culture. That means following our military's customs and courtesies, perpetuating its traditions, studying its history, and changing it when needed so it doesn't stagnate.

Honor those who came before you, share with those around you, and leave a stronger legacy for those who will continue on after you. The right attitude will see you through the hard times, magnify the good experiences, and enrich your life as a whole.

Attitude is contagious. The wrong attitude is like a weight around your neck or a dark cloud that stretches out over those around you. It may not lead to failure, but at a minimum, it requires additional effort and time by you and others to overcome it.

On the other hand, the right attitude will attract subordinates, peers, friends, and people who care about you to your side. With their help, you can join your abilities together to achieve and enjoy more, rely on each other when times are tough for either of you, and share in the joy of your or their success.

Be better each day
We each have the opportunity to learn something new every day. The key is to take advantage of this opportunity.

I'm not talking about taking a huge leap of knowledge or understanding but smaller, more subtle steps. It may be learning a topic you didn't know before. It may be not repeating a mistake you made yesterday. It may be taking a step outside your comfort zone in order to broaden your experience.

But we need to make small improvements regularly. It's the only way to reach our potential in our current duty position, professional responsibilities, or life. It's the only way to ready ourselves for more responsibility whether it comes with the next rank, with becoming a parent, or assuming a new role. And it's the only effective way to prepare ourselves to be able to manage the unexpected.

The long journey to success begins with a single step. And each step you take should be a purposeful one of gaining knowledge and experience.

Focus on the team
In our military careers, and I'd argue in our lives in general, true success comes not from individual achievement, but from what we accomplish together. It doesn't mean much if you succeed, but your co-workers, section, organization, or family struggles or fails to deliver. Instead of keeping your expertise to yourself so you're the only "go-to" guy or gal, share your strengths with others to widely spread your knowledge and abilities. We can all benefit from sharing with one another the tools and things that work for us.

While I've come up with a few methods on my own, I've borrowed/stolen many more from the mentors, leaders and peers I've been fortunate enough to meet throughout my career. Because of this, my Airmen benefit not only from my strengths and abilities, but also from those of others as well.

Look for areas in processes, programs, and individuals that can be improved. Be a mentor to your subordinates, a wingman to your peers, an advisor to your leaders, and all of the above to your family.

Be honest with yourself and look within to identify areas needing improvement and then take action. Also, keep in mind that teamwork isn't a one-way street. Ask others for their view. It's always good to get an outside opinion.

Be willing to learn from others to bolster your own weaknesses. Ultimately, the more sharing that occurs, the more successful the "team" can be.

Find a balance
This can be the most challenging of the principles due to the diversity and volume of demands on us. You need to find and maintain a balance in the different facets of your life.
Make sure you devote enough time each to your career, your family, your community, and the one too many often forget about, to yourself.

When looking within, develop yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You need to deposit enough in each internal and external "account" so you're able to make withdrawals when needed. Do it frequently enough so none of the accounts reach a zero balance.

If you're able to make these life deposits, you'll minimize the negative impact that can occur when one particular demand dominates your attention and energy to the exclusion of the others.

Any facet in your professional and personal lives to which you don't properly attend will degrade one or more of the others and ultimately hurt your quality of life and those around you.

I encourage you to adjust your attitude, approach, focus and balance as needed. And I hope you willingly share with others what's helped you to reach your own career and life goals so they can benefit from your experiences. We not only owe it to ourselves; we owe it to our families and our fellow Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians of all ranks. It can be the difference between success and failure in our personal and professional lives.

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