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Going the leadership distance

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Stephen Hart
  • 90th Civil Engineer Squadron
There are several questions you can ask yourself to know if you're a leader: Do you have a vested interest in your Airmen's career? Do your Airmen know it?

I discuss this issue with frontline supervisors throughout the Air Force and locally at Air Force Global Strike Command's F. E. Warren Air Force Base whenever I get the chance. As a first sergeant, I get plenty of time with servicemembers in tough spots, which can be anything from financial and marital problems to pending legal actions. No matter the member's rank, I always ask if the supervisor was informed and did they try to help before the issue became a problem.

I believe there is a way to prevent and mitigate an issue before it becomes a problem and gets people in trouble. A major channel to potential solutions is the frontline supervisor. The supervisor should know the members' lifestyle and can identify problems at the onset. An uninvolved supervisor becomes a roadblock to success. If a subordinate only respects the supervisors pay grade and does not trust their leadership, how can we expect them to ask for help when needed? I see too many members after their problems have gotten out of control, resulting in the member getting in significant trouble. I always feel bad when I find out a problem could have been prevented if the member trusted in their supervisors' help and direction. A good leader does not just give orders, they cultivate trust and respect. As leaders we need to lead from the front, set the proper example and admit and fix mistakes when we commit them.

Take time to reflect on your own leadership style. Are you doing everything you can to help your Airman succeed? When conducting a feedback, can you honestly say you did everything you could to help the member succeed? Did you seek out resources to help the member improve, such as college classes, reference material or counseling? If not, why was help not given? And if so, did you just give them the resource or did you go with them and help them get the help they needed. Most people don't want to know they need help because criticism is hard to take no matter how constructive it is. Therefore, just identifying they need help is not good enough; going with them to get help and reinforcing positive changes will increase the member's chances of succeeding. Being actively involved in the members' improvements and providing support will foster trust in you and your leadership.

And finally, are you going beyond your subordinates' expectations as a supervisor? I'm not suggesting daily dorm visits, open ranks inspections every week or checking their car fluids once a month. I am talking about explaining how to read a leave and earnings statement, validating leave change corrections, taking your time to ensure they are not getting a bad deal at the car dealerships, or making sure they have someplace to eat and hang out on the holidays. Every step you take to show the individual you care about them and not just the work they do, will create a sense of worth resulting in the individual wanting to work harder. This amount of daily communication and feedback is often neglected. If you are willing to crack the code and show your subordinates you are honestly concerned about them and their career, you will have made a positive impression and hopefully created a future leader who will follow in your footsteps.

We all have the responsibility to ensure our subordinates achieve mission accomplishment and managing people to accomplish the mission is the hardest job in Air Force. As a supervisor, you are not expected to have all the right answers - every time, but you are expected to commit to being a professional. This encompasses guiding your Airmen to resolve their issues before they become problems, actively improving your leadership traits and going the extra distance to ensure your subordinates are set up for success.