09 April 2011

Is there a 'Supervising for Dummies'?

If you have never been a supervisor, you won't be able to follow this post.

If you're just starting out as a supervisor, you might be able to relate to this post.

If you are a supervisor that actually does what you're supposed to do as a supervisor, you'll probably nod your head agreeably while reading this post.

Since the start of the new year, the both of us have had some interesting situations pertaining to our subordinates. More so with Dan than myself, but it has definitely been quite the learning experience. Just when you think you have some kind of grasp on what it is to be a supervisor, got the hang of leading your troops (subordinates to use the "official" term), you're thrown a curve ball that you were not expecting.

As much as we would like to think that everyone has common sense and was raised to know right from wrong and make good choices, this is not always the case. The thing is, in the military, there is very little room for those that want to stray from the straight and narrow path. The Airmen that embody the image of the ideal Air Force member are recognized and rise up the ranks. Those that trip up and make a mistake and continue to make mistakes (whether on purpose or not) actually do receive help... help to exit the Air Force as fast as possible.

Now the role of a supervisor is kind of like being a parent; you train the way you would nurture a child, you give feedback and evaluate performance similar to praising your children when they do right or explaining why they did wrong. You are not obligated to really care about your subordinates, but generally a good supervisor does. While the similarities between supervisor and subordinate and parent and child are apparent, it is important to remember not to get too wrapped up with your subordinates. They work for you and are learning from the examples you set.  If you allow them to get too close because you took it upon yourself to care for them too much, then the roles of boss and subordinate can be blurred and unrecognizable and the respect as the supervisor can be lost.

"Your Airman's actions are a direct reflection of your supervising skills."

That's a pretty damn bold statement. A perfect reason why lately it has been challenging for the both of us these past few months. As much as we strive to be at least decent supervisors, we know that we cannot make decisions for our airmen, let alone think for them. We do our best to inspire and keep our airmen on track in their careers and helping make the mission move.

Now think about that statement for a minute. When a young supervisor (and yes, we're still young supervisors even with 2-3 years under our belts) has a troop that gets into trouble, how do you think they feel? Especially a supervisor that genuinely cares about their troops and only wants them to succeed in the AF? Pretty shitty, if you could imagine. The thought process surrounds questions like Where did I go wrong? and What could I have done differently to prevent this? You feel like a failure when your airmen fail. Regardless of the fact that it was their decision and their actions alone that resulted into them getting into trouble, the feelings of disappointment in yourself still seep into your brain.

It will probably take a few years for either of us to be able to prevent those thoughts and feelings from occurring whenever we find ourselves with an airman that got into some deep doo-doo.  It may take us a few more unpleasant instances for us to learn how to dedicate our time and focus not just on what our troops need, but the best interests of the Air Force.  For now, we're doing what we know how to do best and taking notes from our bosses and mentors we look up to.  If only there were an easier way...