What's Worked for Me

By: Brigadier General Charlie Martinez
US Air Force (Retired)

Throughout my career my actions were guided by two simple principles: do the best job you can at the job you currently have and always take good care of others, particularly your subordinates. Regarding the first principle, I’ve seen fellow officers who were always looking to “punch the right tickets” and “get the right jobs” but that seemed to be their only focus. While attending the right schools and holding the right jobs helps build your credentials for advancement, you also need to do your best, not just do good enough. Regarding the second principle, as members of the military we work as a team and the best way to get the most from your team is to always put the needs and interests of your teammates ahead of your own. Your subordinates, particularly your non-commissioned officers, can either “make you or break you.” If you always take care of them, when the time comes, they’ll take care of you.

Adhering to these principles, however, does not guarantee a successful career. They are necessary but not sufficient for success. While more times than not my efforts were rewarded with additional responsibilities and career advancement sometimes disappointment came my way. When that happens, you have to grit your teeth, figure out how to make the most out of a less than desirable situation, and press on. It doesn’t help to dwell on things that didn’t go well—it only gets in the way of doing a good job at the one you’ve been given (see the first principle).

Finally, always be on the lookout for role models you can emulate. Examine the behaviors of your superiors, noting the things that you like about them and those that you don’t. You’ll see a broad range of behaviors. Choose to emulate the behaviors you find best fit your own style of leadership. Don’t simply try to mimic what you think worked well for them as it may not work for you. And, if it doesn’t it will definitely show.

Of course, if you are lucky enough to be recognized by superiors who are willing to mentor you, jump at the chance! It’s because they saw in you a spark that they want to nurture. And, as you advance in your career, always be looking for those subordinates who you can mentor in turn. It’s all part of looking out for our teammates.

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