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If You Give an Airman Orders ...

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Missouri -- A favorite book to read to my kids when they were younger was "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."  The story told of a series of events that followed the simple act of, well, giving a mouse a cookie. In a similar respect, some rather interesting things happen after you give an Airman PCS orders, or - if in the Guard like I am; or for working spouses or retirees - after we've given our current employer two weeks' notice. 

I'd suggest that the changed ways that we regard our work when we are terminal in it - in the final few weeks before we leave our current job for a new one - provide insights to how we could better manage our permanent roles.  While there are certainly unhelpful behaviors by those afflicted with "short-itis," there are also specific positive traits that should be applied to our current positions, long before we depart them.  To that end:

· If you give an Airman orders, he might speak his mind.  That can be a good thing.  All employees have creative ideas, critical feedback or input to how the business could be run better.  Too often, though, we don't share them - usually out of fear.  We're afraid no one will listen. We're afraid they won't like the idea.  We're afraid of negative consequences that can come when those above us don't like what we have to say about their ideas.  When we are rotating out, that fear often disappears, and we're emboldened to finally share what we've held back for far too long. 

Many organizations strive to establish psychological safety - an atmosphere sponsored by leaders that empowers members to share critical thoughts and feelings, toward the wing and Air Force missions.  While supervisors and leaders have a lot of influence on the atmosphere, it's also true that an organizational culture is built by all of its members. Why not try - respectfully - to share the idea now, instead of waiting until it's time to move on?  Whether heeded or not, demonstrating critical thinking and voicing thoughtful alternative perspectives will, in most cases, be appreciated by leadership, and will also tip the nose of the culture in a more favorable direction.

· If you give two weeks' notice, don't burn bridges.  This is too easy to do, especially when speaking your mind - and all too tempting when leaving an organization and thus, you feel it can't hurt you to do so.  But it's never worth it to burn a bridge:  the Air Force is too small, government's too small, your career field's too small, your industry's too small.  Increasingly, the world's too small.  Sure, stop feeding the trolls underneath it, but leave all bridges intact, because you may have to cross one of them again.

· If you give an Airman orders, she should prioritize - and delegate.  We all have too much to do with our limited time.  We also know that there are many things that we do that aren't that important.  But inexplicably, we do them anyway: because we're expected to; because we've always done them; because they are a priority to someone else. 

When you get PCS orders, you quickly realize that you cannot do everything that is left on your plate in the dwindling hours and minutes remaining to you.  You must prioritize and only tackle the most important things. You finally find your voice to say "no," respectfully, to all the random low-priority "ankle-biter" tasks that come your way. 

In addition to prioritizing what will or won't get done, you will likely also have to delegate some of what's got to be done: either to subordinates, to peers or to your replacement.  I'm not suggesting you offload your work.  But there's you, and then there's the right person for the job; too often we take on their work without a second thought.  Instead, enlist help from your leadership to firmly and clearly put "non-you" tasks on to the right shoulders.

· If you give two weeks' notice, show appreciation.  When you leave an organization, there's a lot of fanfare and celebrations.  People open up about how another person made a difference in their lives or how much they appreciated a co-worker's support, assistance, good cheer and mentorship.  The feedback flies in all directions; certainly it's heaped on the departing employee as she is celebrated and sent off, but it's often also shared from the employee to the co-workers she's leaving behind.

The lesson here is to not wait for a life event like a new job to tell a colleague how much they've impacted your life or your career; don't be the Academy Award recipient compelled to list 472 people who helped them be so successful (invariably leaving many people out).  Instead, do it quietly and do it sincerely.  Every. Single. Day.

· If you give an Airman orders, he should finish strong.  Whether you realize it or not, right now you are working on your legacy: your lasting impact and value or how the organization will remember you, long after you're gone.  But that opinion isn't something that you bring into the office on your last day and turn in with your office key and your continuity binders.  No, every day at work, you are forming your legacy.  So while you want to finish your tenure strong in your final two weeks, it's just as important to your legacy to finish every day strong; to finish every project strong; to finish every rating period strong.  Do that well, and you'll be remembered well - and you will have no regrets.

For those departing a current position for a new opportunity, all the best of luck in the endeavor.  For everyone else, the challenge is to pretend that you just got orders or you just gave two weeks' notice.  Use the new-found sense of freedom to change the way you work in your current opportunity.

What other positive behaviors do employees do as they are leaving a job that can be added to this list? What negative actions have you seen that should be avoided?