An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Developing leaders: Your own corner of the world

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Gabel
  • 375th Operations Group
I often get asked by our newly assigned Airmen, "What does it take for me to make "Below the Zone" senior airman? How do I make staff sergeant in my first enlistment? How do I become a SNCO?" Or I'm told, "My goal is to become an officer or be a Chief in 20 years."

Looking back, my advice now as a group superintendent, is still pretty basic and very much unchanged from the advice I offered team members when I was a first-line supervisor as a staff sergeant. My consistent message and "basic" foundation over the years to teams I've been lucky enough to help lead is: "Take care of your own little corner of the world."

Your corner of the world as a newly assigned Airman is pretty much you and knowing how you fit into the team. You're pretty much being paid by tax payers to learn. You're provided housing, meals, and you're paid a salary to train. Show me what other organization does that with an 18 year old ... it's pretty cool. Training is nothing cosmic or fancy. You need to take a systematic approach to completing your upgrade and qualification, and focus on your development every day. Learn everything you can about your job, and learn it as fast as you can without cutting corners. Strive for excellence and don't let anyone be better than you at what you do. Always do your best ... everyday. You only get one chance to build your foundation. If you have a team member struggling, help them. As you progress in your basic core tasks, ask questions about other aspects of your job and strive to learn everything you can. If you show interest, your leadership will show interest in you. This, along with a little volunteering and getting involved outside your job is the start to a strong leadership foundation, and it can't hurt if your goal is BTZ or staff sergeant. By taking care of your corner, you are prepared to step up when opportunities occur, which can set you apart. I can't promise much, but these simple steps will help in your development as a leader.

As you progress and pick up more responsibilities, your corner gets a little bigger. Along with your job, you have additional duties and you may be supervising one or more team members. Again, the advice is the same: keep it basic, provide expectations and feedback to your team, and pass on what has worked for you (share your vision). Know and perform your job better than anyone. Don't let anyone be a better supervisor than you. Don't let any team be better than yours. Focus on your team member's development every day. Know where you fit into the team and seek out ways to improve not only yourself, but the team. The bottom line is to do your very best, everyday. Be decisive and affect change for areas within your control. Know you won't always get it right, but you can always try to get it right. Volunteer to step outside of your comfort zone whenever you get the chance. I can tell you no one will let you fail but you. I always viewed those opportunities as a win-win opportunity. Don't worry about things outside your team's area or your scope of influence or control, unless you can help change them or offer a solution to make things better. While not a "canned" progression map or solution, these basic steps have helped me from being a staff sergeant supervisor, until today, as a chief select.

In closing, I understand this may seem very simple. Someone may ask, "So, all I have to do is take care of my own little corner of the world, and I'll hit all my goals?" I'd have to be realistic and say no, because there are a lot more factors that play in, including timing and luck. However, by building a strong foundation, I can say you'll be ready when timing and luck matches up with your efforts. By finding, keeping, and articulating a simple approach, you can assure your own success, as well as your team's, along with continuing to develop as a leader.