Eliminate Loadmasters

I decided to stick with the “eliminate” theme for this string of articles even though it causes a little more drama than is necessary.  It is an excellent way to determine if the person responding has read the article, or merely read the headline.  Much like my last article, I do not seriously mean to eliminate all loadmasters.  They play a vital role in the Air Force’s global mobility mission.  What I propose is that we significantly alter when and how they perform the loading/unloading functions.

There has been a program in the Air Transportation world called APEX or Aerial Port Expeditor for many years and the Phase II program before that.  It is quite simply a program that trains a 2T2 to perform the role of the loadmaster.  This ability provides an aerial port the flexibility to load aircraft long before the aircrew arrives and to start right away once maintenance gives the green light.  But the program is showing secondary effects that are beginning to play out.

Loadmasters are losing opportunities to load at aerial ports with the APEX program which is reducing their proficiency.  Additionally, it is becoming somewhat difficult for them to maintain their qualifications or currency because the port is loading many of the aircraft.

To solve this, I have heard discussions about potentially limiting the amount of aircraft the port can APEX, or only uploads that meet weight or pallet minimums will be eligible.  To be blunt, these are dumb solutions, and I hope we discuss them just long enough to discover how this would not make the Air Force better but how it serves to maintain the status quo.  So, what is the solution?

This is a difficult problem to fix, but I think it is essential to move forward instead of staying the same.  We can automatically eliminate the options of getting rid of the APEX program or limiting it.  The solution I see as being the most beneficial is by creating a Flying Port Dawg program.

The FPD would be modeled after the Flying Crew Chief program.  Why recreate the wheel if someone has already completed the work?  This should use the program only for air-land operations.  No air-drop missions yet!  And only for C5 and C17 aircraft.  We could start with simple channel missions to more robust ports to build the program and then expand it from there to support contingency missions and SAAMs.  There would be a need for additional training to ensure they perform any loadmaster responsibilities performed while in flight, but it would also be an excellent opportunity to look at those tasks to determine if they are still important.  And much like the FCC program, when they are at home station, they are working in their assigned section.  Hopefully not ATOC, since I’ve already tried to reimagine its functionality.

There is a manpower cost to this program, but if implemented, there would be an excess of loadmasters to realign.  This is not meant to start a battle of who is more important, but to highlight that much of the tasks performed by these two AFSCs overlap and the difference in who does the work between a 1A2 or a 2T2 is impossible to distinguish.

 

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Eliminate ATOC

For my typical readers, this article will depart from my usual leadership centered topics and will instead focus on a functional role.  My professional community (Port Dawgs) are a wild bunch that will no doubt eviscerate me if this article is dumb, so I must approach this topic like I do everything else…just spit it out and see what happens.  My best-case scenario is it provides a viewpoint that creates conversations and that conversation turns into action.  Worst-case scenario is they will call me an idiot (which is not the worst thing I’ve been called). Either way, let’s get rid of ATOC.

The internet is a game-changer.  Or at least is was a game-changer in 1990 but somehow, I don’t believe we have fully taken advantage of this monumental opportunity.  It is long overdue for us to do so.  ATOC is something the internet could have replaced with some shifting in tasks and a little flexibility.  Not the ATOC flight (cape forecasting, load planning, etc.), the section.  The first charge of ATOC is to be the command and control (C2) of the Aerial Port.  It has been ages since this was the case in reality.  We have established SOEs that the sections adhere to and for the majority of the time they are autonomous.  They need very little C2 from ATOC.

Let’s start with the inbound and outbound controllers.  Keep in mind these are general functions found at most large ports.  All squadrons would need to adjust it a bit to make it work.  Each section in the port has a dispatcher if they work on the flightline.  And everyone has access to GATES.  Because of this, all sections usually skip ATOC and get aircraft info on their own.  This has been happening for a long time and now we have GATES that will usually feed us this info.  Easily we can eliminate these functions.

Senior Controller.  The senior controller position used to be quite valuable, especially in the absence of the Duty Officer (DO).  They run the control center and ensure all the controllers are doing what they are supposed to do.  But if we eliminate the other controller positions the senior controller position is pointless.

Duty Officer.  The duty officer position is important.  We do need a position with actual authority to make decisions and advocate on behalf of the Aerial Port.  Provide two or more depending on local needs to ensure they are not overwhelmed with the additional work.  Put them in a mobile workstation inside a truck with a radio, smartphone, tablet, and laptop so they are always connected to the unit’s needs.  We also need a 24/7 point of contact for the 618 AOC or APCC to contact for emergent requirements such as MICAP, HRs, etc.  Additionally, we would transfer the Ramp controller’s responsibilities to the DO.  They would take the paperwork to the crew, brief them, and ensure the uploads are going well.  They would also be responsible to coordinate with Command Post and Maintenance.  Times will need to be input by the section dispatchers and ATOC will no longer need to deal with the Form 77.  Data Records will be responsible for checking the 77 (if we even need a 77).  This will put the pressure on the dispatchers to ensure they have quality dispatchers.  On a side note, why don’t we have a formal dispatcher’s course?  I’ll look into that…

Local management will determine where to align the DO and the few other sections in the ATOC flight operationally and administratively.

Clearly, there are many items I haven’t addressed but this isn’t intended to be an all-encompassing solution.  It is intended to start the conversation.  It’s time to put a working group together so we can talk about how to actually utilize the leaps in technology we are seeing instead of simply converting paper documents to electronic documents and leaving our processes the same.

 

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Leadership Patience

Leadership patience is the ability to lead without having to drive the train on every issue.  Many leaders struggle with this.  Even the best leaders struggle with letting go and gently guiding the direction of the organization instead of moving hard and fast on the issues.  Patience is often overlooked, especially when it comes to leadership.  Don’t get me wrong, there are most certainly times when you need to move quickly and decidedly, but if you are being a good leader, these moments will be rare.  Don’t worry, leaders don’t have all the answers, many times they have very few answers, but they do know how to get the team to discover the answers.  That is leadership patience.

Far too often I see leaders making decisions before the discussion and then fail to listen once the discussion happens because they already made the decision.  It can be difficult to hold off on making a decision, and most leaders know the direction they want to go, but make a deliberate effort to know the direction you want to go and then be receptive to different ways of how to get there.

New leaders need to be very careful about having preconceived notions about the organizations they are taking over.  Deciding what to do and how to do it before you have been brought up to speed on all the nuances of the organization is a costly mistake and the recovery can take significant time.  If you want to see how your ideas will be received, you can do that without giving away your desire to implement them.  Simply ask the question and listen to the response.  You should be able to distinguish biased answers from legitimately thoughtful responses.

Simply put, people do not like change.  In many cases, they will fight change even when they know it is a good change.  I think the biggest reason for this is because it takes energy to change.  In our busy organizations, change takes energy away from important things we are already doing.  Taking that energy and using it on change creates anxiety because the new process may not even work.  This is why following a change management methodology is wise.  It helps reduce the anxiety of change and can help create an intellectual and emotional drive to change which makes the effort worthwhile.

Listen to your people.  It takes longer, you might not get the answer you want, and your forfeit perceived control, but the only way to effectively lead is my listening to the people under your charge.  Listening is difficult for everyone and is especially difficult as we get older and more experienced.  So, take the time to listen, slow the process down and be patient!  We all know you could change it and be finished in a few days, but unless you want to be stuck doing the tactical level work, you need to be patient and take the few weeks to listen and create a plan the team is willing and excited to work with.

 

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Leadership is Uncomfortable

If you are doing it right, leadership is uncomfortable. Not in a weird, creepy way, but in an “I have to do things I don’t want to do kind of way.”  These “things” are different for everyone, but every leader has things they have to do that make them uncomfortable.  I think if we are honest with ourselves we mostly uncomfortable with the same few things.  We all know that getting outside of what makes us comfortable is vital for a leader but being honest about this and talking about these times will make it easier to step outside that comfort zone.  The few things I get uncomfortable with or at least give me some level of anxiety are below.

Making decisions.  I have no issues making a decision.  I rarely, if ever, get analysis paralysis, or make premature decisions.  I think I’m an above average at critical thinking.  But even with high self-confidence, I still get uncomfortable making decisions.  I want to make the right one, I know I will make mistakes, but what kind of mistake will I make and what cost will that mistake incur?   Will it hurt the people that work for me?  Will my decision set my organization back to a place that was even before I made the decision?  Time will be lost, but will that lost time be worth it?  The big thing with making decisions is to realize that you will make a mistake, you will screw it up from time to time.  But as long as you recognize these moments early and learn from them, the lost time is not wasted.  It is time well spent because you learned and will apply it the next time you face that situation.

Tough conversations (confrontation). Talking to your boss about their toxic behavior, telling a coworker they smell bad and need to shower, telling someone you like that they are doing a lousy job, or firing them.  These are all very uncomfortable situations, and they never get better.  The hardest for me is to tell your peer or your supervisor that they are making a mistake or doing something that is causing a problem.  It is especially tricky when you know they will react poorly to your input.  The best way to handle this is to provide many examples and do your best to be gentle.  Taking criticism is hard but getting into a match of who makes the most mistakes will not help the situation.  Give them an opportunity to respond to the criticism, but don’t get involved in a back and forth about who does what.  If they want to talk about your behavior, tell them that you are more than willing to discuss it after you have resolved the current issue.  Being calm and reasonable is usually the best way to deal with the confrontation.

Pressure to perform.  Let’s face it; performance is why you get paid.  A leader is responsible for tasks that they are not actually going to do.  You have to ensure people do well and to do that you must make sure the processes are there to support high-quality work.  This, above all, is uncomfortable.  How do you get people to perform at a high level?  How do you get them to want to do the tedious work and do it every day?  Everywhere and every job is different, but listening to your people is the first step, having high standards, feeding confidence to your people and holding them accountable is a great start.  Work hard and be deliberate in your actions and you will do great.

 

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Is Changing Your Mind Good Or Bad?

It’s Good.  That’s the answer.  There are always circumstances that will dictate whether there has been a positive or negative effect from changing your mind, but let’s look at this question from the general position of, should one be open to changing their mind.  And from this perspective, the answer is unequivocally yes!

In politics, this is called flip-flopping.  A term flung around like it’s a disease.  In real life, being open to the possibility that your initial position is wrong, takes much more strength than stubbornly grasping to that position.  Not to say this is an easy task.  Our decisions are based on many things that we don’t always understand, outside of some experts in the field.  Personally, I struggle with this as much as anyone, although as of late I have been making a deliberate attempt to get better at it.

What positive effect does changing your mind have?  The first thing it tells them is that you are willing to listen.  This is a vital skill for a leader.  The ability to listen to the people you lead and the humility to let them change your mind cannot be understated.  I’ve experienced situations from both sides of this problem and can tell you that feeling like your leaders are listening to you gives you a great sense of belonging, says you have a voice and encourages engagement from the team members.

Changing one’s mind must be tempered to ensure you don’t actually become a leader that can’t stick to a decision.  Going back and forth is detrimental any organization.  There should be a point that a decision has been made and the group moves on.  Then the decision can be readdressed later if the situation changes or the results of the last decision were not positive.

What negative effect does changing your mind have?  I previously had a boss that had zero original ideas and never made a decision until he could get some sort of consensus.  His decision-making capabilities don’t sound so bad as I type it, but trust me; he was a “go with the popular opinion” type of boss.  There were so many occasions where a person would have a conversation with him, and there would be an agreement only to find out they changed their mind after talking to someone else.  It was almost a game to try to be the last one to talk to him before the decision had to be made.

Be wary of phrases like ‘That’s the way we have always done it’ or ‘We tried that before, and it didn’t work.’  These are indicators that the culture of your organization does not embrace change.  Which probably means your leaders are not open to changing their minds.  It’s time to have these kinds of conversations in our workplace and show how being open to new options and changing a decision does not automatically translate to a negative.

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2 Weeks Ago…I Made a Mistake

I implemented a stupid policy.  In my defense, the intent was to help my managers better plan their days, weeks, months, etc., but it ended up just wasting time.  I had discovered the managers were not very deliberate with their time and there was confusion among the workers.  To help them, each morning I asked the lead to sit with me and go through their plan for the day.  Yes, it is micro-management, but it was designed to be so I could teach them.  Plus, I had a deliberate plan to pull back once I started to see the results I had envisioned and allow even more autonomy than before.

Making a mistake, when we do it, can be one of the hardest things to admit.  But when leaders admit to mistakes it can keep us all from making more errors in the future or at least help keep us humble.  More than anything owning up to a fault will build trust between you and your people.

I’m sure many of you have drilled holes in my plan and have already guessed what the result was.  But for those who have not, it did not go well.  The managers did not plan better, they did not organize their people better, and it did not help them implement actions to better align them with the organizational vision I have established. What my decision did do was force the manager to prepare for the meeting with me instead of making sure their supervisors were given proper directions.  They were spending too much time worrying about how favorable I would judge their plans, and their focus shifted to pleasing me instead of focusing on their people and the organization’s operational needs.

Once I realized the decision did not have the desired effect, I put a stop to it.  And here is the important part.  Instead of telling the managers I saw what I needed to see and they had improved, that they were now organized like I wanted them to be and my idea (like all my ideas) was brilliant, and it worked just like I expected it would, I told them the truth.  Although the idea was an attempt to improve performance and my intentions were good.  The effects of this policy were mostly negative, and even the positive effects were small and insignificant.  In this case, the juice was not worth the squeeze.

Instead of forcing the managers to come to me and be scrutinized about their plans, I go to them.  I observe their operations more and engage them in discussions that are as non-threatening as I can make them.  The intent is still to teach and make things better.  There are drawbacks to this approach, but the manager’s people appreciate a leader that takes an interest in their daily lives and the managers know I’m right there if they need clarification or guidance.  I still get to hear about their plans and how their plans support the organizational vision, but we are much more agile because we have these conversations in real-time.  Everyone has a preference for how they lead, but admitting to mistakes is great.  Your people will not lose confidence in you over a few mistakes.  But if you are making many mistakes they will, and rightfully so.

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