Leadership Lessons: Grow where you're planted, then branch out

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Anton Martyn and Master Sgt. Claudia Carcamo
  • 319th Mission Support Group
"Grow where you're planted." These words can create sudden tension and dampen the mood of any mentorship opportunity. To many, it's an admonishment to toe the line and do the job they've been told to do, an indication that their professional desires are not important, and proof that their leadership is out of touch with their abilities and needs.

Lieutenant Martyn: When I first heard these words from my flight commander 10 years ago, I braced myself to dig my heels in and make a statement that, looking back, would not have gone over well at all. I had wanted to move to the intelligence training shop to conduct upgrade training for our new Airmen, but my commander needed me to move over to a fighter squadron as part of a two-person intelligence shop supporting the pilots of that squadron. Being "placed in a corner" outside of my squadron where I thought my efforts would be "trivialized and tolerated instead of appreciated" was the last thing I had planned for myself.

Thankfully, before I could dig in my heels, my flight commander forever changed how I view the phrase "grow where you're planted." He said he knew what I wanted to do, and he knew I would be good at it -- better than any of the other senior airmen in the office -- but my flight didn't need me to train the new Airmen. The Air Force needed someone who could operate independently in support of a changing mission, someone who had a solid grasp on the basics, and who could turn products quickly. It wasn't a one-way deal either. Ultimately, the skills I gained in that job I didn't want earned me an even better job at the European Command Headquarters in Germany and led to my future commissioning.

"Growing where you're planted" is not about denying you what you're good at or what you want to do, it's about what your unit and the Air Force need the most, and growing you along the way. And if you aren't particularly thrilled with what the Air Force needs you to do, just remember that an eventuality of military service is that you will move. Whether up the chain, laterally to a new assignment, or into special duties, you will eventually leave your current position. When this opportunity arises, take it.

Sergeant Carcamo: In 2003, I was a staff sergeant assigned to the Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, A1 Directorate, at Hurlburt Field, Fla. A four-lane highway was all that separated the base from the sunny, white-sand beaches on the Emerald Coast. By most standards, I was living a great life; however, all that was about to change with the click of a mouse.

I had just returned from temporary duty in Washington, D.C. when I discovered I had a new assignment--and not just a run of the mill assignment. I had been selected to go to Italy! My life had just gone from great to fabulous. I jumped up and down in my cubicle, wild with excitement. "I'm going to Italy, I'm going to Italy" was what I kept repeating to all of those around me.
While many of my co-workers congratulated me, some were asking "Why would you want to leave Florida?" or "Why would you want to leave THIS job?" I was going to seize this opportunity; however, the mixed reactions I received about my assignment caused me to conclude that many people are afraid of change and would much rather stay in their current job or location for fear of learning something new. We get comfortable with what we know and set up internal barriers out of fear. There's the fear of failing, the fear of being out of our comfort zone, the fear of making wrong decisions, and the list could go on forever. Can a new job be difficult? Sure. Is the thought of something or someplace new overwhelming? Sure. It's human nature to be nervous or anxious when we are about to experience change in our lives. We all have experienced self-doubt at some point or another, but we should not let that self-doubt limit us.

The Air Force and our leaders posture us for new and challenging opportunities throughout our careers. These opportunities present themselves to us in many different forms. They could be an assignment, special duties, or perhaps a move to a new work center. Although not all opportunities may be what we consider a "perfect" fit, and we feel inclined to say no because it's not what we want at that time or because it's not at an ideal location, it's up to us to trust in our abilities and stop holding ourselves back.

Changes will most definitely bring some challenges, but in the end make us stronger. I took the "challenge" and made the move across the world to Italy; a move to a one-deep position. I would be the only person in my unit with my job. No one knew the specifics of my job, yet the expectations of my leadership remained the same. They were entrusting me to do what I had been trained to do, to be professional, and to improve my work center regardless of the number of stripes on my sleeve. My ambition helped me forge a path of my own then and now.
Go ahead and take risks, choose to grow, and challenge yourself because you don't know what you may be missing or what you are fully capable of accomplishing. We need to make a conscious effort to stop watching successful people or organizations from the sidelines and as the fifth Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Robert Gaylor said during a recent visit to Grand Forks, "Celebrate change!"

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if your job is right for you; it matters that you are the right person for the job. The positions we are placed in don't always meet our expectations of what we wanted to do or what we think we're best at, because more often we go where we are needed. It's up to each person to make the most of the job they have and prepare themselves for where they'll be needed in the future. In doing so, not only will the needs of the Air Force best be met, but also the development of each Airman so they can reach their full potential.