JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — “It all starts with great NCOs and great supervisors who understand every Airman does have a story,” said the general.
A part of taking care of people is knowing their stories.
“Learn their stories. I am absolutely convinced that if we knew each other better, we would care for each other more,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III during an Air Force Sergeants Association Convention and Professional Airmen’s Conference back in August 2012.
How many supervisors or leaders can truly say they know their troops? What are the names of their children? What’s their spouse’s name? Where do they call home? What hobbies do they like? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Why are they in the Air Force? Are they happy? What’s going on in their life? What motivates them?
I think the questions above are pretty basic. Furthermore, I’m not saying you should be your Airman’s best friend. What I’m trying to say is that the Airmen do the job every day!
We ask and ask day-in and day-out for Airmen to get the mission done. The least we can do is get to know them.
According to 4.1.13 from Air Force Instruction 36-2618, the Enlisted Force Structure, NCOs must take an active leadership and supervisory role by staying involved with subordinates on a daily basis. Use their own experiences and knowledge to mentor others. Assist subordinates in reaching their full potential.
It is stated in our “Little Brown Book,” that we must do this.
I’m not writing this commentary because my past supervisors or present leaders couldn’t tell you a thing about their Airmen. I’m writing this commentary, so our current supervisors and future leaders will KNOW who is really working for them and that the flow of the mission continues on.
In some cases, some may say, “Well, that Airman really keeps to himself” or “He/she doesn’t like to talk to anyone.”
During a visit to the Air Force Academy in November 2011, Welsh shared a story about a young NCO who he had known at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. He got to know the Airman, who was an F-16 crew chief, and they met frequently on Welsh’s trips along the flight line. Six months into Welsh’s command, he was caught by surprise, when the Airman, his supervisor, flight chief, first sergeant and squadron commander show up [in front of Welsh].
The crew chief had gotten divorced right before he left because his wife was on drugs, and he couldn’t get her to stop using them. The NCO’s ex-wife won sole-custody because the NCO didn’t mention the drug use in the custody hearing, but his daughter was at risk of being placed in foster care when her mother was convicted of selling drugs, according to Welsh.
“Let me ask you a really important question: Why didn’t I know about his daughter?” Welsh asked. “I saw the guy all the time, talked to him a couple of times a week. Why didn’t I know he had a daughter? It’s not complicated: I never asked him.”
The challenge of leadership means we must seek out this information and not expect for it to be handed to us. We have to remember our most junior members may be reluctant or uncomfortable sharing the sensitive details of their private lives. Find a way to communicate with him/her. If we do this, we will promote a culture where Airmen can believe in their leadership and leadership can rely on their Airmen – thus accomplishing the mission.
This doesn’t just apply to NCOs – superintendents and unit commanders can also get involved. I understand some squadrons have hundreds of Airmen and to get to know each Airman would be nearly impossible, but it wouldn’t hurt to find out something new about them.
I’m also not saying every supervisor needs to do this, because there are already supervisors in the Air Force that accomplish this successfully.
Take a couple of minutes from your day-to-day task behind your desk or at your shop and talk to your Airmen. Show your Airmen you really care by getting to know them and the time you spend on this fundamental task will be returned to you as leaders increase morale and effectiveness within their units.