Secrets to success

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Brian Hornback
  • 509th
I am often asked, what is the secret to making chief master sergeant?

The truth be told, there is no secret. There is no hidden path, secret hand shake or super secret checklist that will ensure an individual's promotion. Everything we ever need to know to be successful in the military we learn in basic training. In that training, we're given all the necessary tools.

We learn how to salute properly, how to wear our uniforms properly and how to look at ourselves everyday and say, "How can I improve myself and make my image better, because I am a leader and others look to me as an example." 

To succeed, merely look back to basic training and continue to apply and expand what you learned.

There is no single silver bullet or single accomplishment that results in promotion to senior or chief master sergeant - the goal is sustained, consistent and outstanding performance over the course of a career.

Building on those basic lessons learned from our Basic Military Training Instructors, having the moral courage to be a leader and a follower and having the discipline to live by our core values of integrity, service and excellence will ensure a successful career, and even more importantly lead to high achievements in the unit, wing and Air Force.

The cornerstone to these accomplishments is the first-line supervisor. Unfortunately, it is often the first-line supervisor who veers us off track. Have you ever heard, "Forget everything you learned in basic training." "This is the real Air Force, call me John or call me Jane?"

This is where the breakdown in fundamental discipline begins--with leaders who forget the basics. We must embrace discipline and understand that it is the foundation for a strong military and is essential for survival in combat and not just the fast track to promotion.

If you are a supervisor, I encourage you to mentor and talk to your Airmen about consistent, sustained superior performance over the course of a career. If you're only giving your Airmen feedback twice a year, you are missing the point of feedback and setting your Airmen up for failure.

Feedback is nothing more than communication, and it is essential. Give your Airmen a vector - a plan for a successful career. Feedback is fundamental to being a supervisor. As a supervisor, you should give feedback constantly. Constructive criticism and positive comments can be done in short feedbacks and with daily feedback, every Airmen will been given the tools necessary for success.

You must also remain relevant. You need to know that being a leader in 2008 is much different than the '80s and '90s - what worked for you when you were an airman first class may not be relevant today. Our service has changed dramatically in the past five years; build on those previous experiences, adapt your leadership. Be that change agent and you will be successful.

If you are a subordinate seek out feedback, ask questions and never be afraid to volunteer. Having a clear understanding of what is expected is paramount to mission success - if you don't understand, then you need to ask for clarification. Seeking out opportunities, whether they be volunteering for community service, details or even cross training set you up for success.

Every opportunity helps you realize it is other people who help us achieve our goals or set us straight when we are headed in the wrong direction. These opportunities can provide motivation throughout your career and help in building that sustained superior performance.

Being a leader has always been tough and always will be. You have to willingly subject yourself to scrutiny from your leaders, peers and your Airmen. You have to face critics who are often big on words, but who seldom have the courage to put themselves in the breach.

But as the saying goes, "someone has to do it." Don't get discouraged and always take comfort in the fact that you are doing your best. It doesn't matter how many stripes you have on your sleeve - you are all leaders. You wear the uniform of the fiercest fighting force in the world. Your uniform is respected around the globe. When people see you, they see pride and professionalism, they feel good about America.

You give Americans the confidence that no matter what the mission, we can accomplish it. Your legacy is not the stripes you make but rather the leaders you build to replace you.

How does one make chief master sergeant? By being an Airman everyday practicing the basics - focus on the mission and not the promotion, remember it's about your service and never forget where you came from.