Guest Article By: Ryan "Macheté" Blakeney
Instructors are the lifeblood of a unit. They can break down arrogant mentalities and reach down to raise someone up who needs to be shown the correct path to success in any given situation. Every instructor, regardless of rank or job, is responsible for maintaining the integrity and cohesion of a unit's values and standards. Each instructor should display three critical traits for success: humble, approachable, and credible. These three traits are also the mantra for the United States Air Force Weapons School.
Humble is defined as "having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's importance." Instructors should never believe they are better than everyone else. They must understand that there is always room to grow, they should never stop learning, and they should submit themselves to possibly even learning from their students. It is critical to cognitively remember that everyone received help to get to where they are today, whether they realize it or not. The story from Charles Plumb is an excellent reminder of staying humble. Charles Plumb was a U.S. Navy pilot of an F-4 Phantom in over Hanoi on May 19, 1967. He was shot down on his 75th combat mission. He was taken prisoner, starved, tortured repeatedly. He survived the next 2,103 days as a POW until he was released on February 18, 1973. Today, Charles Plumb is a motivational speaker about his life experiences.
One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, "You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"
"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb.
"I packed your parachute," the man replied.
Plumb gasped in surprise, gratitude, and humbleness. The man pumped his hand and said, "I guess it worked!" Plumb assured him, "It sure did. If your chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today."
Approachable is defined as "friendly and easy to talk to." Instructors must be someone that others are willing to approach. This is especially important if the student believes that they have an outlandish or insignificant question. The instructor should strive to make themselves approachable to others. Being approachable will encourage others to want to speak with them, ask them questions, and work with them. This is key to being a great instructor. If no one wants to ask them a question, then they start to lose credibility as an instructor and a leader. When a commander or supervisor says they have an open-door policy, this means nothing if they are not approachable.
Credible is defined as "able to be believed; convincing." Instructors must be capable of showing others that they have done their homework and are subject matter experts in their field. They can lose credibility quickly when the ones they are supposed to be instructing, lose confidence in their ability to teach. Instructors must take time to remember that there are things they do not know. When they can admit this and show humility, they gain respect from your students by being honest. The student knows that the instructor does not know everything, nor is it expected from them. As instructors, they are taught to say, "I don't know the answer, but I will get back to you with the correct answer." It is a necessity to follow up and not forget.
One of the quickest ways to lose a student's trust is by giving answers to a question, just to give a response, even if it is wrong. The students will begin to doubt the information that you attempt to teach them. Chapter 7 of the FAA Instructor Knowledge book explains that an instructor must admit errors:
“Admit errors—no one, including students, expects an instructor to be perfect. The instructor can win the respect of students by honestly acknowledging mistakes. If the instructor tries to cover up or bluff, students are quick to sense it. Such behavior tends to destroy student confidence in the instructor. If in doubt about some point, the instructor should admit it.”
As an instructor, students must trust be able to trust the one teaching. They rely upon them to treat them with respect, to tell them the truth, and above all else, never give up on them. Instructors must set the example and do their best to see the potential in the students that they teach. A great leader doesn't merely look at someone and assume they have reached their highest capability. They must look at the ones they guide and see their true potential. They must reach down and grab this person from the depths and raise them high above them-self without any regard for credit or benefit for themselves. An instructor who puts other's success above them-self will lead the squadron to victory.
The ability of an instructor to be humble, approachable, and credible apply to every leader in every organization, both military and civilians alike. A leader needs to be able to have all three qualities to succeed at organizational leadership and, in this case, guide the student towards a common goal. The USAF Weapon’s School is incredibly demanding and very difficult. It tests the instructor's ability to lead in a stressful environment, ultimately in preparation to lead people in wartime. Their mission is to train tactical experts and leaders to control and exploit air, space, and cyberspace on behalf of the joint forces.
Captain Ryan "Macheté" Blakeney is an RQ-4B Weapons Instructor Weapon School Instructor at the United States Air Force Weapon School at Nellis AFB, Nevada. He has attended Squadron Officers School at Maxwell AFB, AL. He is currently working on his Master’s Degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Unmanned Systems. His website focused on Unmanned Systems is at https://www.ryanblakeney.com