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Position vs. Person

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Shawn Cain
  • F. E. Warren Airman Leadership School commandant
In life, especially military life, we are often expected to fill numerous roles and a variety of responsibilities. This is apparent simply by looking at the Airman's Creed. As if it were a job description, the Airman's Creed lists a few of the roles we must carry out to ensure success on an individual level as well as an organizational level: warrior, guardian, sword, shield, sentry, avenger, wingman, leader and, most importantly, American Airman. Failing to uphold expectations of being an American Airman in Air Force Global Strike Command has the potential to negatively impact something greater than ourselves.

As American Airmen, we are encouraged to set high standards for ourselves and that certainly shouldn't stop when it comes to fulfilling a role I haven't mentioned yet: supervisor. As an Airman Leadership School instructor I have been exposed to nearly 600 of the Air Force's finest senior airmen as they prepare to become supervisors. This exposure, combined with the experience gained from serving in two other career fields, has taught me that in order to effectively supervise we must see our subordinates as people and remember we are people too.

The military side of your mind may have a tendency to naturally disagree with this statement and disregard its truth. You may be able to rationalize this disagreement simply with the thought that you outrank someone; therefore you can be a supervisor. That is true. I am in no way downplaying the positional authority we gain as we move up in rank. Your rank will make you a supervisor, but relying solely on that will not make you an effective supervisor.

Airman Leadership School students are taught that authority comes from two sources: the position they hold and the person they are. Being a person may mean you have to set aside that fa├žade of being a tough guy/girl and show your subordinates a side of you to which they can relate. If your subordinate is showing weakness in areas, fight that urge to have your military mind take over. Relate to them as a human and tell them of your weak moments. If your subordinate is experiencing some difficulties, your first reaction shouldn't be to tell them to "suck it up." Show some empathy for what they may be going through and find out what you can do to help them.

Reaching back to my experience, I realize that this approach doesn't work with everyone. There will undoubtedly be individuals bound and determined to violate standards and fail to meet expectations no matter what approach is taken. What I believe all supervisors need to remember is that gaining personal authority by being someone their subordinates can relate to will have a greater positive impact on that relationship than the rank worn on a uniform ever will. Taking a personal approach, rather than a positional approach, to supervision will encourage open communication, create a comfortable workcenter environment and help us all fulfill the numerous roles and responsibilities we all have as American Airmen.