Commentary

July 13, 2012

From the bottom to the top

Commentary by Col. Tox Wilcox
90th Security Forces Group commander, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.

(AFNS) — Have you ever noticed how every leadership commentary comes from the top of the chain? What about the opinions of our largest population segment in the military — our junior enlisted?

Since it was my turn to write an article, I decided to take it to the troops and reverse the commentary process by publishing a leadership article written by the troops to the folks in leadership positions, at all levels.

I asked Airmen to express their thoughts, ideas and observations on what makes a leader, both good and bad. So this leadership commentary is for the supervisors, the bosses and leaders … there is always room for improvement.

Let’s take a look at a few of the do’s and don’ts according to the lower-ranking future military leaders who judge and scrutinize our actions on a daily basis. So, from the bottom to the top:

Not all supervisors possess leadership qualities. It’s a fact, and believe us, we notice. From the lowest-ranking Airman all the way up through the ranks, people appreciate an approachable personality. For the supervisor coming in with a mission-only-at-any-cost demeanor, it makes you appear unapproachable, making us nervous, more prone to mistakes and, more than likely, someone we do not want to emulate. The mission is number one, but without confident and competent people, it will suffer. We suggest starting the day off with a greeting, ask about our weekend, be interested; this will put us more at ease and ready to knock out duties confidently. With this approach, when the time comes to complete something expeditiously, we will appreciate and understand your no-nonsense approach and execute your orders without hesitation. You cannot be hard-core and unapproachable all the time; there is a balance. Don’t be the “pushover” boss either because, believe it or not, supervisors that allow us too much freedom, or those that do not draw the line at acceptable and unacceptable behavior, or often let things “slide,” aren’t respected. Think of it like this: we are like your teenage children; we don’t like you for your strict rules and curfews, but we understand and respect you for it.

Speaking of respect, we gain more and more respect for you when you participate in mandatory or even voluntary events with us. If you want to lead us, be involved with us. We understand you can’t always be right there with us, and we don’t want you with us all the time, but there are times we would like to see you there supporting us. How about coming out on a training day and getting a little dirty?

We remember a commander from pre-9/11 days who would always come out for training. It was never advertised what day he was coming, but we got excited at the thought of training side-by-side with the commander — especially on the day of searching and handcuffing: a chance to handcuff your commander and not get in trouble? Score! The commander would start the training day by saying, “In the event we go to war someday and have to fight side-by-side, we must be able to operate. I don’t need any of you being afraid to dress my wounds because I wear a bird on my lapel and you don’t want to screw it up. In the same sense, I don’t want to have to dress yours and be afraid of you dying because I never went to training for a refresher.”

It’s a small gesture in the hearts and minds of your subordinates. So supervisors, don’t attend training and sit on the side and watch, get out there and train with us.

Taking care of each other is something we should be doing at all levels, and there are many ways to take care of us. Knowing the morale and welfare of your people is a good start. Leaders at all levels should know their people, at least who they are or what they do, but for the first line supervisor, you should know us better than anyone.

If the first time you see my dorm room is on the day of a dorm room inspection, I have little respect for you. Do us all justice by getting to know us as a person, not just a number. Do you know my wife’s name, where I live, what I like to do? Have you ever visited me at my residence? Are you there for me to reach out to in a time of uncertainty or need? The best supervisor is the one who knows us and our family situation and is willing to spend time ensuring our personal and professional lives are in order.

Do you prepare us for the next step — to take over and perform your job when you are gone? We should be able to keep things going when you are gone. Recognition is important; the good supervisor gives us a pat on the back when we do well and passes recognition down to the Airmen when the flight or shop does well. Don’t take individual credit and brag for something we helped you do. Recognition keeps us motivated; makes us feel like we are making a difference; challenges us to do better; and encourages us to look at new ways of solving the same old problems. By preparing us to perform your job and recognizing us for good work, you are grooming us to be future leaders.

Please pass on your knowledge and tricks of the trade — don’t keep them close hold. Give us the knowledge to solve those same problems someday. Sometimes we may make a mistake, but don’t treat it the same as a crime. We want to do well and solve problems and sometimes may go in the wrong direction and cause a later problem, but it was an honest effort to make things better. If we do something stupid or criminal, we deserve what we get and want to see discipline as long as it is evenly applied across the unit. We don’t want an Airman to get the same enlisted performance report rating or the same decoration as we get if he or she can’t pass the physical fitness test. Take care of those who are meeting the standard and don’t try to lower or ignore the standard for those who do not meet it.

Definitely different perspectives on a leadership commentary, but one’s we should all take seriously. Have you ever sat down with your Airmen and noncommissioned and asked them what they like and dislike in a leader? I know it would be a great and personable conversation, and I’m sure you would be surprised what could be taught “from the bottom to the top.”




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