Sized Up

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Vanessa Smallsbryant
  • 319th Force Support Squadron
Early one morning, I'm working out at the gym and I'm feeling pretty good about myself. I'm feeling so good that I stop my workout and eyeball myself in the mirror.

Much to my amazement, an Airman who is working out beside me is watching me too. I'm embarrassed because he's watching.

I sheepishly return to my workout and the Airman steps to me and inquires, "So, even after you become a chief, you still have to keep working so hard?"

My response was, "Absolutely. In fact, I have to work even harder just to keep up with my Airmen!"

I finished my session and said "Later" to the young Airman, but my head started spinning around the words that he spoke to me.

Suddenly, I realized that the young warrior had "sized me up." His words were thought provoking! Even though I felt complimented, I got to thinking: How often do we get "sized up" in the course of our duty day?

I venture to bet that this happens to each of us more than we realize. What message is received when we are "sized up" by our leaders, followers, family and friends? Do we take care to send the right message to those who are sizing us up?

Take for instance our military readiness posture. Do you know that in order to effectively and positively promote the message of our senior leaders to be mission-ready we must invest a significant amount of time training physically? What message do we, as leaders, send to our personnel when we point the way to the fitness center, but fail to join our folks over there? Think about it!

It is very possible for folks to "size you up" by simply making an assessment of your fitness posture - or lack thereof. Fitness is more than running and doing push-ups and sit-ups! It's about developing your body to ward off sickness and disease. It's about being able to lift a 50 pound or greater sized object or endure hot or cold climates. It's also about reducing stress and helping to establish that much needed balance in our lives.

How do your people size you up when it comes to fitness? Is it a good and fair assessment of your abilities? Wait ... I'm just getting started. So, perhaps you are fit to fight, but are you fit to care?

How many times has someone come to you with an issue and you failed to address the matter appropriately because you either had other things on your mind or you simply failed to listen to what was being said?

Critical listening, much like critical thinking, requires us to put aside the "noise" of our environment and even the "noise" within our heads (please don't confuse this with hearing voices). Our folks "size us up" and make a determination about how much we care by how well we listen to them, especially when there is a problem. Oftentimes, the member may not even need, nor for that matter, want our advice; they simply want to be heard or listened to.

Can members of your team size you up and say that you are a great listener, or do they assess you as being inattentive, disinterested or non-caring?

Listening with careful ears allows us to hear the thoughts behind the words. Remember, it isn't always what you say, but rather how you say it! I look back at that morning at the fitness center and wonder if that Airman really heard me when I said, "I have to work even harder just to keep up with my Airmen!" I hope that he didn't just think that I was speaking about being fit because there is so much more to my seemingly simple response.

Keeping up with my Airmen means that my dress and appearance must always exceed the standard! It means that I must carefully choose my words when speaking to others because there is nothing worse than having someone say, "The chief said ..." when in fact I didn't say it or what I did say meant something totally different than what was heard or interpreted by the receiver.

As leaders, we must lead the way for our subordinates by matching our words with our actions, thoughts and deeds. We must teach them about our military customs and courtesies and remind them that even when they think no one is watching, inevitably someone always is.

Keeping up with Airmen means that the leader knows how to be a supervisor and a support system. Please don't confuse being a support system with being an Airman's friend. These two positions are distinctly different, and failure to acknowledge this, when misunderstood or employed unprofessionally, can and will work negatively against the leader.

Such confusion will work to erode good order and discipline and invites degradation to standards and sorely impacts the mission. Keeping up with Airmen means to "be in the know" of what's going on with subordinates and providing them with the tools necessary for them to be successful. Leaders must help subordinates measure up to standards and size them up by challenging them with greater responsibilities.

I suppose what I am saying is that leaders measure subordinates and subordinates measure leaders. When was the last time you were "sized up" by your leader, your subordinates or your peers?

I spent a couple of days pondering just how that Airman had sized me up that day in the fitness center and by sheer coincidence, I got to meet that same Airman in the dining facility at the end of my duty day recently. Actually, I didn't see him, he spotted me, came up in the line where I was standing and said, "Chief, are you always like this?" I asked, "Like what, sir?" He said, "Always friendly and talking to everyone." He went on to say that over the course of two weeks, he spotted me in many places and I "was always the same." I stuck my hand out to shake his hand and I thanked him for noticing. The young Airman said, "Ma'am, I'm an Airman, I'm supposed to notice things like that!"

So leaders and followers, no matter where you go, someone - somewhere, will "size you up." Take care to send the right message, especially to our Airmen!