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Chief's Corner - week of April 16

Engaged supervisors help build leaders

Think about the supervisors you have had since you entered the Air Force.  The list may be short if you have recently started serving, or long if you have been in the Air Force for some time, like me.  Did you think of a good or a bad example?  Either way, you probably thought about the individual who impacted you more, either positively or negatively. Hopefully it is the former.  I would further venture to guess that good example is someone who engaged with your life both personally and professionally.  The best supervisors are engaged and care about your well-being and developing you into that next rank whether it is airman, senior airman, master sergeant or captain.  The not so good examples of supervisors are often caught standing on the sidelines, watching the action and never fully committing themselves to developing their Airmen.

The attributes I think of when I think of good supervisors are genuine, caring, participatory, educated (not necessarily MBA educated, but in the ways of the Air Force, or knew where to get the answer), professional, and very importantly, approachable and accessible.  We often hear that supervisors are the first line in spotting problems and this is true, if you are engaged.   In passing, I often hear someone wants to "help" or "take care of" their Airmen.  How one truly accomplishes this is another story.  It does start with trust and being genuinely concerned about their well-being.  Our Airmen can smell genuine a mile away.  Take the time required to know your people.  If someone says: "Do you have a minute?" as you are walking out the door and going home to see your family...stop, turn around and give that Airman your time, you will not regret it.  If you choose not to, you just weakened what is already a fragile relationship.  We cannot take this duty lightly.

From Air Force Instruction 36-2618, para 4.1.13., under NCO responsibilities:
"Take an active leadership and supervisory role by staying involved with subordinates on a daily basis.  Use their own experiences and knowledge to mentor others.  Guide and instruct subordinates to ensure they are prepared to accept increased levels of authority and responsibility.  Assist subordinates in reaching their full potential." 

Be involved, teach and prepare your subordinates to take your place.  I will add one more; challenge your people, it will keep them hungry.  Hungry individuals are never satisfied, and strive to improve themselves and others.  If you are not improving others as a supervisor, leader, and mentor, what is the point? Give them challenges for them to solve and when they do find the solution close the loop and recognize their hard work.

On the flip side of this equation, we, as subordinates, must interact the other direction by asking and engaging upward.  If you do not understand what is expected of you, ask.  If you do not know the next career move, ask.  If you are stuck with a personal problem, ask.  Never has this been more important than now in our Air Force.  Supervisors need to be clear about what is expected, and how to get there.  We simply cannot place expectations with no path, nor guidance onto our Airmen.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with great supervisors, leaders and mentors, especially in my last 10 years in the Air Force.  These were supervisors who cared about my development and made time for me.  So I know we are getting better. Just the other day, I asked for, and received, wise and invaluable advice from a Schriever chief master sergeant on how I need to view a particular future career situation.  It is advice I will use and share in the future with others.  Ten years ago, I would never have thought of asking questions like that.  Everyone has the duty and responsibility to help and develop our Airmen for tomorrow-our future leaders.  Engage with your Airmen and make the time for them.  Keep them hungry and challenge them, they will become better.  Do not settle for average from your subordinates, it's not going to cut it in today's and especially not in tomorrow's, United States Air Force.
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