Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, December 12, 2013

How do you make a ‘whole person’?

Commentary by Air Force Master Sgt. Larry Bright
673d Communications Squadron


12/12/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Anyone who has spent any time at all around service members knows military language is filled with acronyms, clichés and catch phrases. One catch phrase that has been around for as long as I can remember is the "whole-person concept." While the phrase itself has stood the test of time, I'm not sure the meaning has.

The whole person concept refers to the type of Airmen the Air Force wants to develop. An Air Force career is meant to be more than just a 9-to-5 job to pay the rent. It's meant to be a way of life.

Whether an Airman likes it or not, they represent the Air Force any time they wear the uniform or are around people who know they're an Air Force member. For this reason, the goal is to develop Airmen of good character, high standards and purposeful actions.

Too often the whole-person concept is translated as, "Go volunteer for something and take a class so I can write a couple of bullets about what a great person you are." While encouraging volunteerism and education are good things, the point is missed if it's only for the purpose of filling a block.

The purpose of getting involved in activities outside of work is to expand horizons and help Airmen realize there is a bigger picture than what goes on in their own lives. Volunteering to support base or community activities presents a way to represent the Air Force in a positive way. The recipients, the American public (a.k.a. taxpayers), are the ones paying military salaries. Improving their view and support of the Air Force is never a bad thing.
True education is always useful on some level, but if it's directed with a specific goal in mind, it's much more useful. The point has once again been missed if a course is taken only to fill a block. On the other hand, if an Airman decides to better themselves in a particular area, such as leadership, job knowledge, etc., and then selects classes to meet their goal, they're going after the whole person concept.

When you take the phrase "whole-person concept" purely at face value, doing things just to fill a block doesn't even make sense. That would be more like the "doing just enough to get by" concept. That isn't modeling the Air Force core values of integrity first and excellence in all we do.

So it's clear that for an individual to model the whole person concept they need to choose a lifestyle of supporting the community and bettering themselves as well as being a great Airman at work. But what about supervisors? What can they do to develop the whole person concept in their subordinates?

First and foremost, supervisors need to lead from the front. If a leader is trying to get their followers to do something they aren't willing to do themselves, they're doomed to fail.
So does that mean a supervisor needs to do everything all their subordinates are doing? Of course not. That may be impossible, depending on how many subordinates there are. Supervisors need to find the volunteer and education opportunities that work for them and encourage their subordinates to do the same. That takes us to the next point - helping subordinates find the opportunities that work for them.

The only way a supervisor can help Airmen find activities that are meaningful and customized to them is to know the Airmen. The best way to get to know them is through good formal and informal feedback. The lack of, need for and importance of feedback in the Air Force is another article in and of itself. The point is ... it's needed, required and there's no excuse for not providing it.

Formal feedback sessions are good opportunities to dig in and really find out what makes an Airman tick. It can be structured to find out what hobbies and interests the Airman has and start using that information to point them towards activities they can develop an interest in and get passionate about. The feedback session is also a great time to find out future education and/or career goals the Airman has and help them to take advantage of the many opportunities available. Day-to-day informal feedback is a great way to build on and fine-tune the knowledge base.

For the Airmen who are provided leading and mentoring, but still want to only do enough to get by, the supervisor has a responsibility. That is to rate the Airman accordingly. It's an injustice to the Airmen going out and embracing a lifestyle of integrity, service and excellence when those doing just enough to get by receive the same rating.

For the Airmen who embrace the core values and shine, support them and encourage them to shoot for the stars. Help them to develop a sustainable stride, and teach them how to become a leader ready to bring up the next generation. Now that's a recipe for a
whole person.

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