Lessons learned from BTZ boards

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Brian McDaniel
  • 734th Air Mobility Squadron Superintendant
Last week I had the distinct honor of sitting on the Below-the-Zone board for Senior Airman, where nine outstanding Airmen 1st Class BTZ nominees came before five chiefs and answered various questions concerning military knowledge, leadership and current events effecting the Air Force. Also considered, was a written package distinguishing the professional, educational and other accomplishments of the nominees.

As each came before the board, I was thoroughly impressed with how each Airman's bearing, communication skills and appearance were top notch. Most of all, I was inspired by their leadership qualities and by what each had achieved, especially considering the short time they had been in the Air Force. Every Airman distinguished themselves in the performance of their primary duties, strived to better themselves professionally and personally, and were thoroughly involved with base and community activities. These were not Airmen who just checked things off to fill a quota but had a sincere passion and energy for what they had accomplished. They all had short and long-term goals and a strong ambition to stay focused on obtaining those goals. They all understood their squadron's mission and their vital part in it and that being in the Air Force was not simply a job but a profession.

After the board, the members had to make some hard decisions and consider which candidates were our number one, number two and so forth. As you might guess this was very difficult. As I was going through the packages adding up the board scores, it made me reflect about what I was like as an Airman 1st Class and about my own leadership qualities. I was nowhere near the caliber of these Airmen when I was their age. I always knew it was a team effort to succeed (and it took a pretty big team for me); you need someone guiding you, giving good advice and honest feedback. I was fortunate enough to have some seriously dedicated mentors and supervisors throughout my career. Over the years I have observed those mentors continually reinforcing four common themes. Simply said, those themes are people, character, effort and communication. I offer that a successful leader must:

Know your people. Get out and about; walk around, look your Airmen in the eye and have a conversation; this should be done on a regular basis. It shows everyone your commitment to be engaged with not only with the mission but with them personally. We can have the best equipment and the most sophisticated aircraft but ultimately it's our Airmen that make the Air Force what it is today. It is critical to build a quality and professional relationship with all of your people.

Have a strong sense of character. Our core values are the foundation in everything that we do and are a direct correlation in all the successes we have in the Air Force. Integrity First, Service before Self and Excellence in All We Do are not just words, but a committed lifestyle.
Put forth extraordinary effort in making quality, timely decisions. When I was a young non-commissioned officer and I was put in charge of my first shift the superintendent sat me down and explained that I was going to make mistakes and that he expected me to learn from them; but the one thing he would not tolerate was indecisiveness. Follow the Air Force instructions, make sure you're always safe, and do not hesitate to make a quality decision.

Lastly, communicate honestly, early and often. It is imperative that we communicate honestly, directly and know your audience. Remember that you cannot lead through e-mail. Important matters need to be done in person. You need to convey your sense of dedication, commitment and ownership as a leader in person. This cannot always be done on paper or by phone. Continuous communication will enable you to know your Airmen and for them to know you.

By embracing your own personal leadership philosophy, whether you "benchmark" my four leadership imperatives or develop your own, you will accomplish things in your career that will exceed your expectations. Without exception, my peers agree that you always raise the bar.

As I reflect on the privilege of serving on several BTZ boards and having the opportunity to meet such outstanding young Airmen, I am humbled. The truly impressive point of order for me is the fact that our Air Force is chock full of incredible Airmen like those I met that day. As my career marches toward its inevitable completion, I feel comfortable that the best Air Force in the world still has its best days ahead of it because of the spectacular commitment to integrity, service and excellence of our entire enlisted force.