Invest in Meaningful Relationships

Throughout my military career I have spent a considerable amount of time helping others figure out what motivates them to put on their uniform day after day. For many service members over the past few years, their work environment has transformed from the bloody battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan with constant deployments to the non-combat steady state garrison operations. Adversaries have adjusted their strategy from a barbaric physical combative form into deceptive psychological information operations aimed at crumbling countries from within. This shift in warfare has also transformed the modern service member’s day to day operations to a more non-action repetitiveness. This training-centric and defense/deterrence-focused approach creates a repetitive environment that slowly eats away at a service member’s sense of purpose.

In this modern environment, how do we motivate our subordinates, peers, and leaders? This is one of the most important questions I have encountered during my time in service. Lack of motivation and purpose can lead to a decline in performance, a decline in morale, and depression. In my personal experience, I have found the solution to this problem is to develop meaningful relationships and unit inclusion.

The most important action you can take as a military service member is forging meaningful relationships with your teammates. It does not matter if you are the lowest or highest-ranking member in the workplace, your actions will make a difference. A meaningful relationship goes beyond the surface level relationships most people seem to form at work. While it is a nice gesture to ask how everyone’s weekend went, that will not create an environment people are excited to be a part of.

I discovered this solution during a meeting with one of my peers. This member was having a rough time in his personal life, and it was beginning to affect him at work. While trying to figure out what we could do to alleviate some of the stress my teammate was experiencing, I soon discovered that the relationship I had with this member was the solution. During the conversation this member told me that the talk we were having meant more than anything I could physically do, such as give him a day off. He told me that he loves coming to work because he feels like he is apart of the team and feels like he matters. At that pivotal moment, I realized that my connection with this member and with my team was the reason we are such a high-performing and happy organization.

Typically, as military members, there are a lot of factors that are out of our control. Pay, work hours, the mission, and the amount of people available to meet mission requirements all exceed our influence. However, this does not mean we have to silently suffer. There are actions we can take to create an organizational culture that we are proud of. This starts with ensuring everyone feels like they are apart of the team.

All my life, I have always felt driven by social experiences. I thrive on being my authentic, genuine self. Due to societal norms and military expectations, many people do not feel comfortable expressing themselves. However, when individuals form meaningful relationships and every member of the team is included, trust can flourish. Trust creates transparency, transparency creates more trust, and people feel comfortable expressing their feelings.

One of the biggest issues I have noticed is leaders getting stuck in the science of managing their organization. While there is value in metrics and quantitative information, this can not be the driving factor behind how an organization is managed. This mentality breeds an environment where the mission matters above all else and only the high-performing people are recognized. These individuals are usually self-motivated and strive to set themselves above their peers. Although it does not hurt to have some competition, this environment does not make the majority feel included. Since leaders and supervisors are busy, the majority becomes neglected. These people are likely showing up to work and doing the bare minimum to earn their paycheck. If another opportunity presents itself, these people will likely leave the service rather than reenlist. This can be avoided by forming meaningful relationships with everyone in your work center. The cliché that a team is only as strong as its weakest link could not be more true. However, the weakest link is usually not the least intelligent or least skilled person, it is the most neglected person.

How do you form a meaningful relationship with someone? This is easier than it sounds. It all starts with time. Take the time to sit down and talk with someone. Find out where they are from, what hobbies they have, and what they like to do outside of work. Allow them to openly share experiences and stories. It is important to actively listen and stay engaged in the conversation. Find out what stresses them and what roadblocks exist between them and their goals. Due to the nature of the military, many workplaces are filled with individuals from different backgrounds. This provides countless opportunities to learn about another culture or lifestyle and share your own. Over time you will likely develop unique connections with each individual. In my experience this changes the entire dynamic of the work center. You will notice that people are happy to be a part of the team. This also creates a comfortable environment to provide honest feedback.

While there is no way to replicate the feeling of fighting side by side with your teammates, there is a way to motivate your military team in our modern workplace. Forming meaningful relationships and including each member of your team is an aspect you can personally control. Take this into your own hands and take the time to get to know the people you interact with on a daily basis. Not only will this motivate the individuals in your workplace, but it will also likely change your perspective and motivate you as well. I love my workplace and my team. I value the time I spend with them, and I am honored to work beside them. They will be my brothers and sisters forever, and it all started with developing meaningful relationships with each of them.

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OverTheTop is a guest contributor and is a 13 year active duty Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force.