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Keeping morale in the crosshairs

  • Published
  • By Maj. Paul Cruz
  • 44th Aerial Port Squadron
I distinctly recall a conversation with one of my squadron mates who had just returned from a deployment to Baghdad. When I asked how his deployment faired, he excitedly described all the great things the team accomplished, the list of new opportunities he was able to undertake and the host of new people he had met. He then ended with "and morale was really great." 

I thought this was an interesting final comment because I had always heard from fellow unit members, outside agencies like 4th Air Force and visiting dignitaries about the "high morale of the 44th Aerial Port Squadron." Thus hearing one of our own describe how "morale was really great" left me feeling like my leadership cadre and I still had some work to do to improve our morale. 

Truth is, morale is like driving a car. Take your eye off the road, even for the split second, and your whole trip will quickly become one bad experience. This cautionary note takes on heightened meaning when driving through difficult terrain where a momentarily loss of situational awareness can have disastrous effects. 

Likewise, for a squadron, failing to constantly assess its own morale can undermine its mission effectiveness, more so, if that squadron is undergoing challenges. The objective is by keeping "morale" in the leadership's crosshairs, you have the ability to empower a unit with an "any time, any place" kind of ethos and bravado that it will conquer any challenge or hardship. 

This breaks down into four categories - Dialogue, Active Listening, Communication Channels and Responsible Reaction. 

DIALOGUE: The difference between a whiner or complainer and a person providing feedback is that I've found whining and complaining involves a lot of the blame game and little of anything else whereas open communication involves frank discussion about responsibility. Open communication not only illuminates problem areas but also suggests what actions should or could be undertaken to alleviate or remove those problems. 

ACTIVE LISTENING: This involves engaging behaviors that demonstrates to a speaker he or she is being heard, empathized with and the information being sent is being processed. In fact, offering solutions before the person is finished speaking is a clear sign of not actively listening. True active listening can involve such behaviors as direct eye contact and non-verbal affirmation, such as nodding as well as note taking. 

COMMUNICATION CHANNELS: Having formal and informal channels, such as Top Three or suggestion boxes, assists leadership in uncovering an issue or concern before it becomes a larger problem. Like many other units, I leverage one specific formal channel, the Chiefs' Meetings, to keep tabs on issues that can affect the unit's morale. Trust me, if I don't come away with at least a page of notes and solutions for a multitude of concerns levied, it's only because we are in intermission. 

RESPONSIBLE REACTION: Regardless of how questions or problems are tabled, ultimately the follow through is what is being measured by the unit. A lack of follow through or responsible reaction can signify that communication channels are just processes and not management tools. Thus, even if a unit can't fix a problem, then addressing the problem or educating the unit on the complexity of an issue can still be considered responsible reaction. Our members understand we can't solve everything. But, we should attempt to address them. 

Several weeks later, I approached that Baghdad deployer and asked him about his "great morale" comment. I was curious to find out what could we do locally to generate that same type of deployment enthusiasm. After realizing there were things that I couldn't do (such as give him more time off), we realized that what he truly enjoyed was being busy and contributing to the mission. So, my responsible reaction to his concern was to put him on our Operational Readiness Inspection Team. I've not heard through any formal or informal channels that he is regretting that decision. 

Too bad all our morale issues can't be that easily solved. But, if you don't dialogue, listen, keep open channels and react not even the small issues will be solved.