LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. In my four years as a first sergeant, I’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly; however, I would not be effective if I allowed the bad and ugly of the past to overshadow my decisions of today. Instead, those experiences have allowed me to identify questionable decision-making from my fellow leaders relating to defiant Airmen.
From my experience, solid Airmen don’t just wake up one day and decide to quit on the Air Force.
If your top performer demonstrates a pattern of showing up late to work, or not showing up at all, this could indicate the Airman is intentionally being defiant. This type of behavior is not acceptable in today’s Air force and whether the Airman receives an Article 15 for disrespect of a superior or failure to obey an order, Airmen should understand the consequences of their actions.
Before heading down the road of discipline, leaders should stop and ask themselves, is this truly a matter of defiance, or could something bigger be going on that is driving the new behavior? Questions like these fall along the lines of “leadership 101″ and should be practiced at every level of supervision.
Although the resulting behavior may look the same, there is a mile-wide difference between defiance and distress. The reality is that you’ll never know what circumstance an Airman is dealing with without knowing what is driving his or her current decision-making. By setting aside time to dig deeper and discuss the situation, you will be able to understand and correct the behavior.
Our Airmen deserve more than judgmental or disgruntled leaders who jump to conclusions based on false assumptions. More times than not, we have high-quality Service members who find themselves in personal struggles from time-to-time because we are human and life sometimes takes a toll.
The fact remains whether you are a first-line supervisor of the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, your job is to take the time to find the root of the problem. If it turns out to be defiance, by all means, bring on the book. But if it’s something more serious such as stress, depression or even abuse, the correct course of action is to use the many resources available to get the Airman the help he or she needs. Once the individual is in a better place, allow them the opportunity to recover.
My advice to supervisors is if your “shining star” suddenly dims, your mission is to keep them from falling, or catch them if they do. We are all in the business of holding people accountable, but we are also here to help people by building him or her up.
Leadership is hard work, but I encourage everyone who supervises to get out there and lead; there simply is no other option when your Airmen depend on you.