What kind of supervisor are you?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Marc Rodriguez
  • Air Combat Command first sergeant
As a new first sergeant at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., I was at my group superintendent's staff meeting when a chief, the mission support group superintendent and great personal mentor, gave us a heads-up about a small trash detail requirement to clean up after the fourth of July fireworks . As we filed out at the end of the meeting, I made what I considered an innocent, trivial remark to the chief.

"Not to worry, chief; if I can't find anyone, I was going to go out there to help clean up anyway. I'll do it myself."

At this point, the chief stopped me and called me back into her office. She began to explain to me that as a senior noncommissioned officer, I needed to shy away from that way of thinking. Since making chief and working at higher levels, she said she'd noticed a change in today's noncommissioned officers. She said more and more of us aren't supervisors anymore. Instead, we've taken on a protective role for our Airmen.

"When we were 'coming up,' our NCOs actually ran their work centers," she said. They tasked us Airmen to do details - good and bad. We were their Airmen, and the good supervisors knew it was their duty to recognize us and make us well-rounded individuals. Plus, they knew it had to be done. Because, as she pointed out, let's face it - if we, as younger Airmen, had a choice, most of us would never have volunteered to work weekends, extra hours or take on the dirty jobs.

Now, she constantly hears supervisors saying, "Not my Airmen," or "My Airmen don't work weekends," or "Why are you asking my Airmen to pick up trash; that's not their job." But the Air Force is not a job, it's a profession. We are expected to do things for the greater good - the mission and the community - and doing unpopular things is sometimes a part of that devotion.

So she asked, "What's so special about these Airmen that differs from us when we were Airmen?" She remembered her supervisors saying, "I need you to work this Saturday, but you can have Monday off." They knew their section and ran it, and they directed the efforts of their people. So now, we, the older Airmen, have grown accustomed to saying, "Oh, it's no big deal; I'll do it."

Why? What are we protecting our Airmen from -- a letter of appreciation, a below-the-zone or airman of the quarter or year bullet, or just the pride in being a part of something greater than themselves?

The chief said that as NCOs, and especially senior NCOs, we have more authority now than ever before to lead and run our duty sections. But many of us are giving that authority away. We wait until the commander or chief forces us to make an unpopular decision before we act, or worse, make the decision for us. So, now who's running the section?

But the most dangerous byproduct of this type of supervisor is that these new Airmen are growing up to believe that unpopular details, weekend or after-hours work, or supporting unit functions are "not their job." As today's leaders, we are responsible for the leaders of tomorrow. We cannot have the leaders of tomorrow believing that unpopular tasks, "are not their job." We need to set our Airmen up for success and help them see that even unpopular tasks and details are just another opportunity to excel. It's great recognition for them, and they learn to appreciate the greater good.

So the next time you find yourself with a tough task, remember - this is your section and it's up to you to run it - not wait for someone to force you to make a decision. It's up to us as NCOs to "take care of our Airmen" - sometimes whether they want us to or not.

So, what kind of supervisor are you?