Sweat the small stuff

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Scott McDonald
  • 509th Civil Engineer Squadron
Have you ever heard the phrase "Don't sweat the small stuff?" We used that phrase all the time when I was a younger Airman. What is the "small stuff?" To me, it was the mundane tasks that I didn't consider important, but had to do anyway. To others, it's the small details that are tedious and you don't notice if everything goes the way it's supposed to. Whichever way you see it, they are the hidden traps that will turn success into failure in a second.

I was fortunate to be stationed with Chief Master Sgt. Clint Camac, a fellow first sergeant and later a command chief, and sat in on one of his Airman leadership school graduation speeches. The topic of his speech was "Sweat the Small Stuff". He told the story of when he was a technical sergeant and served as the Tactical Air Command Senior Enlisted Advisor's aide and didn't "sweat the small stuff." He was responsible for planning a trip to one of the TAC bases. He took for granted that transportation was going to be there, so he didn't see it as an issue. Sure enough, the first day they went outside to wait for a vehicle that never came. Sergeant Camac knew a vehicle was needed, but assumed someone else would be working that aspect of the trip. You can imagine his embarrassment having the senior chief in TAC standing on a sidewalk while he was busy contacting transportation to get a vehicle.

Although this is a worse-case scenario, Chief Camac used it to make a point. Don't assume the small details will be done by someone else. If it's your responsibility, don't leave anything to chance.

As a first sergeant, I see Airmen "not sweating the small stuff" on a daily basis. Consider enlisted performance reports as an example. The information on the top of the form (name, rank, SSAN, etc.) is all included in the EPR shell, yet that information is seldom correct when it is forwarded by the rater. Why is that? Is the supervisor assuming someone else in the chain will correct it? Is it just little stuff that's not important? It's the same on award packages, decorations and any paperwork being routed through the squadron. Why aren't we sweating the small stuff?

How do we break this habit? The first step is attention to detail. Read through the Air Force Instructions and operating instructions to see how the packages are to be filled out. Ensure you know what needs to be in an award package before you submit it. Double check the information before you forward the package. Use the same care and attention to detail you apply to a highly technical task in your Air Force Specialty Code on these packages. While these tasks may seem trivial and mundane, they are some of the most important aspects in your role as a supervisor. You would hate for your Airman to lose out on an award because you failed to do the paperwork correctly.

The second step is to take responsibility. If it is yours to do, do it to the best of your ability. Don't leave anything to chance. When I was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base, I used a government vehicle to visit my ailing Airman at Walter-Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The hospital was three hours away, and being a good Airman, I made sure that I had a vehicle first thing in the morning. I showed up early in the morning so I could beat the traffic. I assumed the person who used the vehicle the previous day would fill it up with gas. You know what happens when you assume something. Needless to say, I didn't get a head start on the traffic because I didn't take the responsibility to check the gas gauge the day before. The same thing goes with paperwork; you can't assume someone else will spend more time editing a package than you do. Ensure every detail is taken care of because the responsibility is on your shoulders.

The last step is to take pride in everything you do. If you make sure everything with your name on it is done to the best of your ability it shows you sweat the small stuff. I'm sure you have been to awards ceremonies where everything was choreographed perfectly from start to finish. Was this done because of luck? Absolutely not! It was perfect because the Airman in charge took pride in his work and planned down to the smallest detail. Whether it's a base awards ceremony, paperwork, or doing your job, the pride you show doing everything to the best of your ability is apparent. On the other hand, if you don't take pride in doing tasks correctly, you can assume that no one will give you an important project because you can't be trusted to do it right. Pride, or lack of pride, is evident to your subordinates, peers and supervision. Once you sweat the small stuff, your supervisors will understand you take pride in everything with your name on it, whether it's a base event or your Airman's training records.

Let's start sweating the small stuff. Attention to detail is extremely important in all we do. Whether you are a maintainer, engineer or personnelist, skipping the small details could have devastating consequences. Take the responsibility to ensure everything has been planned out to the last detail and leave nothing to chance. Prepare for all contingencies so if something goes wrong, you've already got Plan B waiting. Showing pride in everything you do is not only evident to you, but to all around you. Be the Airman everyone wants to be in charge of a project because you take pride in everything associated with your name. Who will you keep waiting on the sidewalk if you don't sweat the small stuff?