Chief’s Corner: Carry your own Rocks

  • Published
  • By CMSgt. Daniel Kenemore
  • United States Air Force Academy Band

When my boys were younger, we would go on hikes. They loved to pick up and collect rocks.  

 On one particular hike, we were out in the woods and the boys, like always, started picking up rocks and showing me every single one.  

About 10 minutes later both boys had both of their hands completely full of rocks they wanted to keep and proceeded to present their little clutched fists to me asking if I would carry them.  

I would and placed four little handfuls of rocks into my pockets. Another 10 minutes would go by and once again I was presented four more handfuls of rocks and so on and so forth.   

Finally, I decided these boys are old enough to carry their own rocks. So, the next time those four tiny fists were presented to me, I told my boys, “You guys need to carry your own rocks. Figure out which ones you really want to keep and just carry those.” 

They started putting the rocks in their own pockets of the sport shorts they were wearing. Within about 30 minutes of collecting rocks, my youngest son’s pockets were loaded and started to strain on the elastic waist band of his shorts.  

In another half hour or so, he could barely keep his shorts on because they were too heavy from the weight of the multiple handfuls of rocks he placed into his pockets. However, even then he kept picking up rocks that he wanted to keep.  

That was until his shorts fell off. This got his attention and he realized that he needed to be a bit more selective about which rocks he really wanted to keep and which he would leave behind. I could have easily continued to take all their rocks and carry them until we got home, but then the boys would never have learned a lesson. 

While this is just a silly little story, it translates extremely well to leadership.  

If you’ve been in the military for a while, many technical and functional tasks probably come very easy for you. However, as you look at the Airmen and Guardians in your formations, you may find that these types of tasks do not necessarily come as easy to everyone as they do for you.  

It may even be tempting to just do their job for them, carrying their rocks. 

By doing so though, you are depriving them the opportunity to learn and grow. 

Teaching, leading, and mentoring are slow and deliberate processes which take more time, but ultimately pays off in the long run.  

A fully developed and educated force will produce highly capable Airmen and Guardians prepared to solve problems. and lighten the strain on your own short’s waistband. 

Now even though the Airmen and Guardians you develop are not your kids, they are someone's. 

I challenge you to truly care about each of them, even the ones who give you difficulties. 

Because when you care about them, you will build trust allowing you to foster a greater influence in their development. But, caring alone isn’t enough. 

Taking care of Airmen and Guardians doesn’t mean letting them do whatever they want and blindly advocating for them. You need to routinely challenge them and set high standards, demanding they measure up, and providing them constant feedback.  

You must balance this approach of being caring yet challenging in order to provide your Airmen and Guardians the necessary tools to thrive in this extremely complex environment and carry their own rocks.