Battling apathy in the ranks


I recently read an article on apathy in education, which included that learning is shifting from an individual to organizational responsibility. This manifests as student apathy and challenges the future of education. In the Air Force, I see a similar shift in responsibility.

The military, much like education, suffers from inadequate funding, an overloaded workforce and heavy-handed legislation. Aside from these obvious challenges, apathy is a subtle reality eroding the military and education’s effectiveness.

We find apathy in those who don’t care to pay attention to requirements that don’t apply to them directly because they assume someone else is tracking it. We see apathy in those who don’t care to reference the guidance that governs their work. In an environment where the individual is held less accountable than the organization, it’s easier to ignore individual responsibilities.

To combat this, supervisors must spend time overseeing, teaching and mentoring each Airman to gain back their individual responsibility. For instance, a supervisor teaches his Airman the basic instructions that govern their job with the ultimate goal of creating a subject matter expert. A supervisor can also inspire this Airman by helping him to understand how their job fits into the big-picture mission.

Look to create self-motivation in airmen – those who will accept the challenge of the mundane, hard task, buck up and do it anyway giving it their best. Give that young Airman the responsibility for their own success; put responsibility with the individual. I’ve seen it in action – it works.

Leaders of programs or people should look for ways to put responsibility to do training, or get tasks done, back on the member. Look for ways to wean off the idea there needs to be a monitor for training or requirements. Programs need to be managed, but that shouldn’t involve monitoring, hounding and elevating when x, y or z at any point. What absolutely needs to be elevated is the task or requirement that can’t be done because there are competing demands on time. Leaders then have the responsibility of communicating what completing that requirement will cost to mission effectiveness. As we collectively create opportunities for success in achieving individual responsibility, not only will individual success improve, but so will overall mission effectiveness.

It is our duty to provide tools to individuals to help them. It is an Airman’s responsibility to use those tools to ultimately succeed, which is not the same as taking responsibility for someone else’s success. When hard-won success is achieved in one aspect, apply it to other aspects and more will follow. Personal achievement is an excellent motivator and nothing breeds success like success. It leads to inspiration – it’s how we go from sheer determination to passion. Just getting by is not motivating. That is how we inspire our Airmen to a lifetime of service.