Commander offers three tools to aid supervisors

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Chambers
  • 75th Air Base Wing commander
Being a supervisor is the single greatest opportunity the Air Force can provide a leader -- the golden opportunity! Almost all of us will have this opportunity at some point in our careers.

One important aspect of supervision is the fact that its inherent responsibility is also its inherent reward. Green Bay Packers legend Jerry Kramer once remarked "He made us all better than we thought we could be" when referring to his former coach, Vince Lombardi. In my opinion, that's a spot-on definition and it begs the question, are you inspiring your people to perform better than they ever thought they could?

There are many characteristics related to being a great supervisor. My top three include: practicing the golden rule; providing comprehensive, honest feedback; and making time to motivate your people.

Many are taught at a young age that we should treat others the way that we want to be treated. Yet, this simple rule is often neglected in the rush of our daily lives. How many of us have been chewed out in public? Why? Because that's how our supervisors were treated when they were the subordinates, and we all learn behaviors from our supervisors -- whether right or wrong.

Do you chew out your people in public? I hope not, because even when it's well-deserved, scolding should always be a private event. When Airmen make mistakes, focus on identifying and fixing the issue, not attacking or embarrassing the individual. Making corrections out of the public eye demonstrates a leader's respect for the individual, and a commitment to fixing the problem and moving forward without residual ill will.

Applying the golden rule inversely can also produce some interesting insight. Do you treat your boss better than you treat your subordinates? What if we tried to treat all our people like we treat our bosses? Imagine what kind of enthusiastic reaction and "pay-it-forward" mentality that might instill. You must set the example for how you want members of your wing, group, squadron, or unit to treat one another. Create an environment of mutual respect for your people and you'll be amazed at how they'll respond. The golden rule is infectious!

I believe the Air Force does a poor job of providing feedback to its Airmen. First, we write the most inflated performance reports imaginable, and of course our Airmen read and believe those reports.

Second, our culture tends to avoid confrontation, so we typically don't provide the most important element of constructive feedback -- criticism. Providing criticism is the supervisor's responsibility. If you do not identify and correct performance lapses, you are doing your people a great disservice.

Because our performance reports are so inflated, the formal feedback session is more important than ever in improving performance. Lack of constructive criticism is leading to a culture of Airmen who really believe they're all performing perfectly which, of course, is not accurate. I'd suggest that 90 percent of our Airmen think they're in the top 10 percent of their peers. Needless to say, statistically and logically something is wrong with this picture.

The best supervisors provide honest feedback. It's not the easiest form of feedback, but is certainly the most valuable for your organization and your subordinates. Great supervisors accept the obligation to inspire their people to perform better than they ever thought they could. They carefully monitor and keep track of those things they believe their subordinates could do better and they take the challenging but crucial next step --they tell them about it.

Supervisors must keep weekly, specific performance notes on their people to include good and improvement areas. Over the period of six months, an effective supervisor will have tons of notes to sift through prior to a feedback session. These notes help supervisors identify trends and areas for improvement and kudos in a personal, specific way that will resonate with each individual. Effective, honest, non-inflated feedback will empower subordinates to understand how and why they need to improve. It also will remind them that you truly care about their personal development.

We are a busy Air Force! We tend to do easy things first (the mission) and leave the hardest tasks (people) for later. Unfortunately, with our current operations tempo, many supervisors don't get to the latter. We have to remember the supervisor's primary job is to motivate people so they can best perform the mission.

There are a million different ways to do this, from sending letters home to parents, to providing time off for superior performance, to presenting Airmen with a tough challenge. Whether it is an Airman's family life, their personal or professional goals, or outside interest or hobby, find out what most motivates that individual and go with it. Also, realize the awards programs touch less than 10 percent of your people. Get out from behind your desk to present a coin or give a well-deserved pat-on-the-back because these personalized visits will have a much larger effect on the majority of your people.

Supervisors are in a position to inspire people "coach Lombardi style"... in a way that enables them to be greater than they ever thought possible. Practicing the golden rule, providing honest feedback, and making the time to motivate Airmen are three tools to start you down an effective supervision path and help ensure that you best serve your people!