Chief’s Corner

by Chief Master Sgt. Robert Hughes

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

I was out on the baseball field the other day watching some players go through batting practice, when one of the players took a swing at a ball. Clearly it was high and out of the strike zone. Immediately, the coach corrected the batter by ordering, “Don’t swing at high balls!”

At the time, it sounded like pretty good, straightforward advice. But then I started to think about what had transpired and realized it wasn’t advice at all. The problem with the statement, “Don’t swing at high balls,” is it reaffirms a desired end state without informing the batter how to achieve it. And this worried me because I couldn’t help but wonder how many times a day we as supervisors instruct our Airmen the same way.

Sometimes, it is appropriate to give orders. In the military, there are times when a leader has to give orders. When you tell a squad to “charge that hill,” you don’t want them to think about it ― you just want it done. However, even in the military, leaders don’t give orders unless they have to. Instead of giving orders and telling someone what to do, good managers give instructions. Instead of telling people what to do, you tell people what you want done and how to go about doing it.
Henry Ford once said, “If you want people to perform at the highest level, then you, as a manager, must provide adequate instructions so time is not lost doing things that will have to be corrected again and again.”

And this is what we as Air Force coaches must do if we are to help others achieve their highest level of performance and potential. 

All too often, in the interest of time, we as Air Force leaders order people “not to swing at the high ball” without giving them instructions on how to get there. When a person is given instructions instead of an order, they have to think. They can’t just do what they were told and say they were following orders. They have to think of ways to get the job done. They have to decide what the best way is. They have to invest a little of themselves in the solution. And in doing so, they will become involved in the process.

So the next time you start to give an order, give instructions instead. Provide people guidance and direction that relays clearly what you want done and how they can go about achieving success. Then with your guidance and direction, let them figure out how to do it. It is a better solution for both of you. And in the end, you as a coach will have buy-in, support and the end state goal you desired.