Knowing your Airmen is not a new concept in the Air Force. This concept has been mentioned in various professional development situations and throughout guidance from Air Force senior leadership for some time now.
As with many processes and concepts this is easier said than done and takes significant commitment from the leader. In short it demands a little work. While senior leadership at the squadron level or higher will make an effort to learn about their Airmen, the person who has the potential to make the most impact is the first-line supervisor. This level of supervisor usually has no more than a handful of Airmen they are directly responsible for, but their actions can have huge impacts to their units and subordinates alike.
Just like we are all familiar with performance feedbacks, guidelines and expectations, a supervisor should be familiar with who their Airmen are. We preach the whole person concept, so we need to learn the whole person as well.
Supervisors are expected to know where their folks are from, if they’re married, have children, their ages, where they live, if their spouse works, what their hobbies are, their fitness habits and levels, and other things that make those Airmen who they are. Learning these types of things will build a picture of who they are and what drives them, as well as life challenges and stressors they face.
For those who have reviewed the new Airman Comprehensive Assessment, an entire section is devoted to this very thing. Some standard questions are even provided that will trigger two-way communication with open ended answers.
All of this is designed to develop our replacements to do more and go farther in our Air Force. No matter what rank or position you are in, the nature of our culture is that we are temporary place holders. We must look forward and take action to develop successful replacements. We as supervisors have failed if we operate solely in a reactive mode. Sure, there are times we have to, but most fires can be prevented with proactive efforts.
Especially those taken to learn about our people to both develop them and resolve issues at the lowest possible level. I am pretty sure I have heard that concept before once or twice.
Please do not take this concept lightly, because people’s lives and careers are at stake. Use your experience, instinct, and communication skills to find root problems and help your Airmen to work on them. We often focus on administrative or disciplinary actions when presented with poor performance or misconduct. While that must be documented, it should be a flag to push for a root cause. We all are juggling various things in life, and we each have our own priority lists that will determine what gets dropped when the pressure is on. Having candid, face-to-face, sincere talks with your Airmen will be crucial in resolving their issues at the lowest level. It will make them a stronger and better Airman in the process.