Empowerment: More than just a word

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Sparks
  • 319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
 I am a first-term Airman at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. I am approaching one year time on station and getting close to achieving the next skill level in my job. At this stage in my career, my number one focus is on training and mastering my job. All Airmen are expected to "check the boxes" in order to complete their training, but how those boxes are checked is a matter of opinion.

I've always been the type of person that looks for new ideas and new ways to approach old procedures. The question is will I be empowered to implement any of my ideas?

Empowerment is probably one of the most commonly used words in the business world and that is the case in the Air Force as well. We always hear leaders talk about empowering our Airmen to succeed, but what does that empowerment really look like?

One of my first big stories after my arrival was about a group of Airmen working together to train for battlefield Airmen career fields. It was great story idea and I had a general plan of action, but I wasn't truly prepared for the story. My coworker, Senior Airman Xavier Navarro, mentioned that we had underwater camera gear. He taught me how to use it and gave me some ideas to think about for the story. While he liked my original idea, he pushed me to develop it into an even greater story.

My main interest involves our social media strategy. To have a successful Public Affairs shop we must embrace the population's dependence on social media. At almost every shop meeting, I started pitching different approaches and ways we could improve. Staff Sgt. Brian Economides noticed my enthusiasm and expertise on the subject and suggested that I take over our social media plan with him as my supervisor. He empowered me to make decisions and learn from our successes and failures. I had only been out of technical school for approximately six months and was given the opportunity to truly affect change in my office. I definitely had several ideas that were flops, but being able to learn and experiment allowed me to grow as a public affairs professional and gain confidence as a new Airman.

My most ambitious idea was to launch an account on the social media platform Vine. Very few, if any, bases are currently using this platform because one of its biggest appeals is the use of comedy. We are still learning and exploring all of our options, but the important theme to recognize is that I have been placed in a position to have ideas and see them through from start to finish.

It's important to realize that empowerment isn't just about letting people run with their ideas, but instead challenging them to develop their ideas and providing the mentorship needed to succeed. Every idea I've pitched has been returned with questions and ideas to help me think more critically. For example, I wanted to invest in a social media management tool called Hootsuite because I believed it would allow us to save time when posting content. I was given the challenge of researching, testing and compiling data that would support my belief. I learned how important it is to be detailed and thorough when presenting new information.

Why do all these examples matter? These examples show how empowerment can be used to train and help Airmen gain a better understanding of the processes necessary to affect change. I feel that I have been blessed with a group of servant leaders. From Senior Airman Bonnie Grantham telling me about a great study tool for my career development courses to 1st Lt. James Fisher showing me the process of applying to officer training school, I have a team that cares about my development as an Airman. They have empowered me to succeed and my recent selection as Senior Airman Below-the-Zone is a product of their support.

The Air Force needs as many servant leaders as possible. They make it their goal to lift up their Airmen and put them in a position to succeed. Dictionary.com defines empowerment as, "to give power or authority to." I define it as finding satisfaction in the success of your employees. If your goal is for your Airmen to succeed, then you will empower them to become great. Allow your Airmen to become the great leaders that every member of the United States Air Force is expected to be.