Get to know your people’s ‘story’

  • Published
  • By Col. (Dr.) Nathan Krivitzky
  • 88th Dental Squadron


WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Oh -- Years ago when I initially met one of my mentors, the first thing he asked me was: “What’s your story?”

He was an imposing man who leaned into the words he spoke. It was not a question I had expected and I was not sure what information he wanted exactly, so to be safe...I simply blurted out my whole life story.

After I finished bringing him up to speed from high school to present day, he responded with a confirmatory nod and said, “OK then.” And walked away.

At the moment, I thought it an odd exchange, but I appreciated he wanted to know about “me” — the history beyond my Air Force identity.

However, what I know now that I didn’t know then was this O-6 mentor, who ended up helping me quite a bit earlier in my career, was essentially trying to get to know my background and the type of person I was.

Each Airman, officer and civilian has a unique set of life experiences. We each have our own “story.” Much of this experience comes prior to our time in the service. Oftentimes, it helps shape and mold who we are.

One key leadership tenet is taking care of your people. For leaders at any level, a good first step is getting to know the background and history of the people you command. It is important to acknowledge and understand this history. Its usefulness cannot be overstated.

What challenges have they had in their life? What challenges do they face currently? What motivates them? What do they value? What are their goals? How did they get to be in your command?

These are just some of the valuable pieces of information that can be gleaned from asking about one’s life experiences. You may be surprised what you find out.

For higher-level leaders, it’s impossible to know each and every person who serves under you, but focusing on your key subordinates and then asking those individuals to also learn the background of their own personnel will create a more connected and aware unit. Unit members will appreciate that leadership understands their background and values their life experiences.

Units that feel connected tend to be more resilient, have better morale and are more apt to accomplish the mission. Knowing a person’s history will help facilitate mentoring, coaching and ultimately leading that individual.

So, the next time you have a new member come into your unit, consider taking time to sit down with them and learn about their “story” — you’ll be glad you did.