That Sergeant Won’t Cut It!
by: Anne Macdonald
In 1989, as a young captain, I was assigned as an operations officer of an aviation brigade (about 3000 Soldiers) in Ansbach, Germany. I was responsible for coordinating, organizing, and executing a program for the brigade called ‘Spouse Orientation Flight Day.’
Spouse Orientation Flight Day was designed to introduce Army spouses to aviation, including an opportunity for them to ride in an Army helicopter. It was meant to be fun but it was also more than that. It was all about increasing morale of the families and thereby increasing retention of the Soldiers. As families understood more about the rigors of aviation duty, the more apt they would be to support their Soldiers to stay in the Army. I was very excited about the opportunity to lead this project and eagerly inquired who was on my team.
I thought it was a joke when I was told, “The Brigade’s Graphic Illustrator will be your right-hand man”. I was even more disappointed when my request to have someone else assigned to me was denied.
Why? A Graphic Illustrator is a non-commissioned officer, one skilled in his craft, but with absolutely no experience in operational aviation planning. And from my previous observations and limited interaction, this particular person had very little leadership skills. I was worried.
When I went home that evening and talked over the day’s events with my husband, negative words flowed freely. I told John about my new mission and how I thought I had been assigned the most incapable NCO to help with the Spouse Flight Day. I went on to describe the NCO in less than flattering terms.
John stared back at me in disbelief. “Whoa! I can’t believe what I am hearing,” my husband said. “Is this the same Anne Macdonald who always talks about the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect? And how everyone wants to be and deserves to be a valued member of the team, and it’s up to the leader to lead and to bring out the best in everyone?”
That hit home and with a big impact. It wasn’t what I expected to hear, not from my husband, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. Fortunately, those harsh words came from someone who loved me and I knew I needed to change my behavior ASAP. Certainly, I couldn’t expect others to treat me with dignity and respect, a personal value I frequently talked about, if I did not afford the same dignity and respect. I didn’t really know this NCO and was pre-judging his capabilities and value before even giving him an opportunity to try. There was a gulp of guilt with this realization, and a commitment to change.
This was about choices. My choice to be consistent in my words and actions. My choice of how I wanted and should behave as an individual and as a leader. The next day, I went back to work, and treated this NCO differently. I treated him with trust and confidence. I asked him what he thought his strengths were and how he could best help. As our project developed, I made a point to let him know how much I appreciated him and his contributions. Much to my surprise, he rose to the occasion, became an invaluable asset; and, yes, due to his significant and inspirational contributions, the Spouse Orientation Flight Day was a total success.
This experience was a valuable lesson that not only reinforced the importance of treating people with dignity and respect, but it also taught me the importance of trust and confidence in others…giving everyone an opportunity to grow and to shine!
True Growth Takeaway:
We have the choice to control our behaviors and choose to treat others with dignity and show respect. The result was a subordinate who grew and a leader who grew. We both were better soldiers for this experience.
True Growth Journal Question:
Do you treat others with dignity and respect? Is there someone in your personal life and/or workplace you are not treating with respect? How can you change your behavior to treat them with dignity and to demonstrate respect, thereby reducing conflict, improving relationships and growing productivity?
About the author: Anne Macdonald served in the United States Army for over 30 years and retired as a Brigadier General. She has combat experience from the First Gulf War and Operation Enduring Freedom. Anne was in the first class to graduate with women from the United States Military Academy in 1980. In 2011, the women graduates of that class were inducted into the US Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame. Anne has been happily married to her husband, John for the past 28 years.