Written by: Ken Berry
Howdy, howdy, howdy. I'm so glad to be back. Grad school can be demanding, but job hunting and
school are. I think I prefer picking thorns off a diamondback. I know I'm not that old, but my chassis
knows otherwise. Anyways, where were we? Ahh, yes, that particular person in our lives. No, not our
spouse; I'm talking about that subordinate that you can't make it through the week without
experiencing their naturally gifted talent first-hand.
I loved being an NCO in the Army. For me, it just made sense. My biggest reward was seeing young
mentees move on with their careers. Usually, young enlistees join for their initial hitch and move on. On
occasion, you get that one seed that genuinely wants to continue its military path. Eventually, they gain
momentum and pass you up, worsening your miserable life. Ahh, youth, got to love them. I'm joking,
but it does happen. Sometimes, a service member is so motivated, dedicated, and young that it all falls
into place for them. More power to them, I say. However, not all soldiers are that ambitious. Some are
committed to reenlisting and making a run, but they haven't quite got it all down yet. That's where I
come into the picture,
Obi-NCO-Kenobi. With my trusted side arm and cloak, I take this young mind, grab their noodle,
massage that chrome dome, and VIOLA, a well-oiled machine. I said Viola, the name of a book we're
reading in class. There's this stigma that everyone must evolve at the same time. If that were the case,
what would be the point of mentorship? Some people take longer to figure it out. I'm not a psychologist.
I can't give you a black-and-white answer as to why that is the case, but I know they're no less
committed to their work or career. For others, it gets even more challenging. I've seen soldiers reenlist,
and not six months go by, and they're getting an article 15 for something that I would have handled at
my level. Next thing you know, that young soldier trying to make it work for them is slipping further into
that trap. I'm talking about that emotional trap where a young mind thinks that same article 15 is the
end and gets into even more trouble. Later you find out that the original charge was subjective at best.
Don't get me wrong; discipline is vital to the organization, not just in the military. However, one could
argue that sometimes we take things a little too personally in the military.
When I had junior NCOs in my charge, I always told them, "Not what you say but how you say it that
gets the optimal results." Subordinates are people too. They're entitled to mutual respect. It's not a
matter of whom outranks who all the time.
The same goes for the civilian workplace. I've worked civilian federal jobs with a GS 13,14 or 15 over
me. I didn't, nor did they have to spread their wings to get things done. In return, I respected their
authority, and they respected my position. In the end, it got done. That comes from the understanding
that they are in charge, and I am the one who gets to charge up that hill. There's no need to throw rank
around. I know who they are. I know what they can do with my job status. I don't need to make things
awkward to do so. I didn't learn that overnight, but I did know it, and so will that young soldier or
employee learning what life is all about.
So what does this all suggest? I like to think that having subordinates is a form of eustress that is
"good." the stress I talked about before. When we have associates, we must ensure their well-being and
professional development are addressed and exercised. Sometimes, we are unaware that we decide
for other people than letting them take responsibility for their own lives. Although we should try to avoid
that parental dynamic, it's hard not to. We cherish having that low-maintenance subordinate within our
team. The one person you can rely on or count on, especially when it matters the most. Don't get me
wrong. I love the challenge of a less optimal performer. Still, not overmanaging or supervising comes in
handy when other matters require your time. It's all perspective. Have too many good subs, and you
become complacent and unchallenged. You have too many knuckleheads, and you are bouncing your
head off the wall the next thing you know. I suppose it's like anything else we deal with in life. We need
balance. Just like we need work/life balance, we need balance within our organization. We need to
share our resources and responsibilities accordingly, and to achieve maximum effectiveness; we need
"There is only one like you in the whole world.
There's never been anyone exactly like you before, and there will never be again.
And people can like you exactly as you are."
- Fred Rogers