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'That's Why You Get Paid the Big Bucks'

  • Published
  • By Maj. Christine Millard
  • 90th Comptroller Squadron commander
"That's why you get paid the big bucks." This phrase is often jokingly spoken to leaders when they face tough decisions. Whether we make "big bucks" or not, as leaders, we must realize the tough choices we make can have far-reaching effects to those of whom we have been put in charge. As a squadron commander, I've definitely faced some tough decision points: for example, sending an NCO to a deployment which I knew may be a potentially dangerous situation or determining a stratification statement on an officer's review. These tough decisions - the decisions I make - may affect the person's career, quality of life or even their life itself. So, how do I weigh the options? How do I make the best choice?

When faced with a tough decision, sometimes the best choice may at first be pretty obvious. The choice may involve a legality issue such as allowing civilians to take time off without annotating their time sheet. Or they may involve a standard, such as completing a fitness test on time. Have you heard of the so-called "59 minute rule"? Or what if extenuating circumstances push a person's fitness test over the line to the next month causing them to be late? Do I take a stand to support the member, or discipline them? Even when faced with a black-and-white decision, other factors may muddy the waters to turn even a seemingly obvious decision into a tough one.

As leaders, our choices are not always easy ones, and the leaders I'm talking about are not always the commander or flight leader, either. As a matter of fact, we're surrounded by informal leaders at all levels who are faced with equally tough decisions. What about the designated driver who makes the choice to turn down the "just one" drink to make sure he gets his passengers home safe and sound? Or the military member who sets the fitness example by choosing to stay in shape year-round versus pushing it out just in time for the fitness test each year? Those choices are just as career and life-impacting, and the decisions affect ourselves and the examples we set for our peers. These decisions are rooted in our personal integrity and our Air Force culture. And these decisions can be just as tough to make.

Whether the decision I make affects my peers or my subordinates, I need to make sure my choices have a positive impact on those around me. What is the impact of the decision? What statement will I make by taking one choice over another? If I make a decision to overlook a problem with a member of my squadron's uniform appearance, what effect will that decision have on my squadron? What if I overlook a traffic ticket? Or a DUI? As I said before, these tough decisions can have far-reaching effects, sometimes of a second-order nature. Remember, my staff has access to your pay - your "big bucks" - so I think you want us all to make good choices, too.

Luckily, as formal or informal leaders, we don't have to face tough choices alone. AF Pamphlet 36-2241, Professional Development Guide, has great discussion to help us make the tough choices. If you search the document you can find 32 instances of the word "choice." You'll also read about making tough choices in the areas of staying motivated, traffic safety, and healthy lifestyle. The PDG talks about choosing the correct words, method of feedback to subordinates and risk management. Included, you'll find a paragraph about a member's acceptance of the Article 15 actually being a member's choice of forum versus an admission of guilt. And there's a section about suicide as a choice. These tough topics definitely involve some tough choices. On the document's very first page, retired Gen. Norton A. Schwartz encourages us to use this guide as a tool for the challenges - the tough choices - we face today and in the future.

In addition to this extremely useful guide, we also have each other. Without a doubt, I rely on the inputs of my leadership team when making a tough decision. This includes my superintendent, first sergeant, peer squadron commanders, my boss and others I can count on for data points and experiences to help make my tough decision-making easier. They can help me interpret the law and rules, give me background on similar situations they've seen before and help me weigh the consequences of my decisions, especially those with second-order effects or which may not end up as black-and-white as I first thought. By the way, this resource team is not just available to a squadron commander. These experts have information you need when weighing options on tough decisions such as retraining, base of preference and personal conflicts, as just a few examples. Any person making a tough choice should count on the expertise of their leadership team as a resource to make a tough decision easier.

Yes, as leaders, we will all face tough decisions at one point or another. In comparison with similar jobs outside the military, most of us don't even get paid the "big bucks" to make these tough decisions, either. Just be assured we're not alone with our struggle to make a tough choice. There are resources and tools available to help you and me both make the best choice when faced with a tough decision. Use these resources and then the tough decisions we make can lead to an even better Air Force for all of us.