Little wins equal bigger successes

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Nick Vallely
  • 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing command chief
The question that I am most often asked when I am speaking at professional military education courses, holding enlisted calls or just out walking about is, "How do I become a command chief?"

Now, to be quite honest with you,  I was stumped and had absolutely no answer the first time I was asked this question. Matter of fact, I was speechless because I never set out to be a chief master sergeant, much less a command chief. So, I didn't have a "plan."

As I thought about how to answer the question in the future, I realized that what I lacked in a "plan," I had in a philosophy that my dad and mentors taught me along the way reinforced in me throughout my career: "If you rack up the little wins, you will get opportunities for the bigger successes in life."

What are "little wins"? They are things that we can all do that don't require any special talent, skill or intelligence level. We just have to look for them and secure victory daily. As Air Force members, we are very fortunate because "little wins" are all over the place and easy to find.

Here is where I look for my "little wins" every day:

Following rules: This is the easiest area to look for wins. The Air Force provides guidance and instructions in almost every aspect of our lives. These rules are taught to us in basic military training and then reinforced throughout our careers. We all know what they are, we just have to follow them to get a "little win."

For example: One of the most debated items I hear is whether or not we should have to "tuck in" our physical training shirts. The AF instruction is clear: tuck it in. Based on that rule, every morning I get up and get dressed in my PT uniform, I tuck my shirt in and then I look in the mirror and I say "Winner!!!"

More important than me securing my "little win" is that no one can look at me with my PT shirt untucked and think "Loser!!!" Whether it is wearing your uniform right, practicing customs and courtesies, or getting a haircut, it is that easy: following rules equals "little wins."

Showing up and participating: I recently attended college orientation with my son and was astounded to find out that 70 percent of college freshmen never get beyond freshman year. However, I was not astounded to find that the number one reason for failure was due to lack of attendance. You can't win if you don't show up.

The same thing rings true in our Air Force today. You would be amazed at the number of opportunities that you miss out on just because you didn't show up, whether it is a professional organization meeting, staff meeting or base/community event.

There are "little wins" at all of these venues and the first win just requires the effort of showing up. Presence alone helps build credibility, exposes you to leadership opportunities, demonstrates military and civil investment in your community and allows you to expand your network. Additionally, once you start engaging at these events and participating in opportunities, the wins will start pouring in. Just getting there equals a "little win." Getting there and participating equals the opportunity for several "little wins."

Attitude and energy: I am amazed at how easily I am impressed with a professional, upbeat attitude and how much I am willing to invest in someone that has both. Your attitude, whether positive or negative, can influence a person's perception of you before they ever get to know whatever technical competence or hidden talents you have. Again, attitude and energy don't require any special talent, just the right mind set and some effort.

For example, there is a young airman first class that works at the Freedom I Fitness Center and every day that I walk in at 4:30 a.m., she is always hustling around taking care of business and goes out of her way to greet every individual that walks through the door. She scores a "little win" every day with every person she comes in contact with her because of her attitude and energy.

They know who she is, are impressed with her professionalism and are willing to take an interest in her career. Again, it is that easy. Come to work with a professional, upbeat attitude and start racking up the "little wins" with everyone around you.

Be prepared for your opportunities: There were several times in my career when I got an opportunity over someone else for the simple fact that I was prepared and they weren't. In today's Air Force we are extremely busy and don't have the time to wait on someone to get to the training, education or physical fitness level that they should have already had.

If you have the discipline and effort to ensure you are prepared for your opportunities, you would be amazed at the number of "little wins" you will start to rack up. So, if you need to finish your career development courses, finish them. If you need to complete PME, do it. If you need to get your Community College of the Air Force degree, get it. If you need to work on your fitness, get busy. These are all opportunities for you to score "little wins" and ensure you don't get a big loss that puts you behind your peers.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking, "How in the world does tucking in your shirt or doing any of these "little things" get you all the way to being a command chief?" They don't. They were just "little wins" along the way that ensured I didn't get losses. They may not have opened a door, but they ensured I didn't close any doors for more opportunities and bigger successes.

Over time, I racked up enough "little wins" that my leadership began to invest in me, started challenging me more and gave me opportunities to get some "big wins." In other words, my "little wins" started to turn into "bigger successes."

I know it sounds simple, but success in today's Air Force is that easy. So, start today and go get some "little wins." Bigger successes will be sure to follow.