Put your career on 'manual focus'

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. David Dock
  • 39th Mission Support Squadron chief of manpower and organizations flight
It is amazing how often incidents and occurrences seem to parallel in your life. 

A year ago I purchased a new digital camera for my wife. While we were discussing its amazing features, she said that since she wasn't comfortable with all of the latest technology, she would probably leave the camera on auto focus until she really felt like she understood the camera's many settings. I suggested that there may be experts in this area who could give her guidance and advice; this way she wouldn't become frustrated and would get the most out of our latest investment. 

Later, my wife spoke with the manager of a local camera store. He "walked" her through many of the camera's features and explained that one minor downfall of auto focus is that the camera will fixate on the most prominent object in the view-finder and other objects could become clouded or blurry. His recommendation was to set the camera on manual focus and for my wife to select what she felt was the important object in view and make the picture what she wanted it to be. 

My wife arrived home later that day with a new sense of excitement and confidence in her abilities. It was great to see such enthusiasm for her new hobby. 

One of my more important tasks during my next duty-day was to provide feedback to a newly assigned senior airman. I have given hundreds of feedbacks throughout my career and try very hard to make sure I tailor each feedback to the individual and never give a "canned" lecture. 

I had conducted initial research and noticed this Airman had nearly completed a bachelor's degree in history. However, he didn't have a Community College of the Air Force degree and was going to be eligible for promotion testing soon. When we sat down together, I asked my favorite question, "What do you want from the Air Force?" He responded with, "I want to be a chief!" The answer surprised me a bit because if I were to have ventured a guess after looking at his record, I would have thought he was planning to leave the Air Force soon and pursue employment elsewhere. The Airman explained he knew any bachelor's degree would help him make chief master sergeant, so he needed to focus on that and the rest would fall into place. 

After hearing this statement, the "light" went on in my head. This Airman had his Air Force career on "auto focus." The systematic steps it takes to achieve his stated goal of eventually being promoted to chief master sergeant, the highest enlisted grade in the Air Force, were cloudy and blurred. 

I explained that while a bachelor's degree definitely should be a goal, this Airman may want to focus his attention on those functionally-specific things that will impact his career now, such as studying for promotion, earning his CCAF degree, attending Airman Leadership School and embracing the "whole person" concept. In other words, the Airman needed to put his career on manual focus and pay attention to what's important right now, on a day-to-day basis, and make sure he was filling the blocks needed to reach the lofty pinnacle he has set for himself. 

This Airman had no idea that he may have been approaching his goals the wrong way. It took someone who understood the steps in the process to guide him on the right path to success. 

Air Force supervisors are charged with being like the expert manager at the camera store. If we allow our Airmen to leave their careers on auto focus, the most career-impacting accomplishments may be blurred in their view finder. Mentor your Airmen on where their focus should be at key times in their career to ensure they are ready for career advancement when the time comes. Timing and balance play a huge role in success. Help them to learn from your successes and failures. 

Our Airmen are the Air Force's most valuable resource; don't let their focus be clouded by what's in their most clear view. Be that Air Force expert and teach the art of "manual focus."