TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – The front line supervisor and subordinate relationship is not just one of the most important relationships, it’s the foundation on which our subordinates’ development starts. How we catch and care for our Airmen, in my opinion, is the most critical step in their professional development.
Yes, I said our Airmen. America’s moms and dads give their sons and daughters to us; they give them with the expectation that we, the U.S. Air Force will care for them. A key part of that care-plan should be intentional professional development. We do a good job training and developing great maintainers, medics and cooks, but do we, as supervisors, do a good job developing professional Airmen who are also great maintainers, medics and cooks? Bottom line, the front line supervisor has two jobs: develop subordinates into professional Airmen and develop these professional Airmen to be great at their craft.
The front line supervisor and subordinate relationship is much like the parent and child relationship. Most people remember their parents or guardians who impacted their childhood much like most of us remember our very first Air Force supervisor. Do you remember the name of yours? How did they impact your development?
Just like parenting, there are many books written on how to build and develop relationships, but there is no better way to learn than to get busy doing it. Don’t be afraid to fail, and when you do, learn from your mistake, jump back in the ring and get busy.
Here are a couple of tips: be assigned as their sponsor and make contact with them before they arrive, meet them upon their arrival and make them feel welcome as this is one of the first steps in developing the team, get to know them and their family situation and find their niche and figure out what motivates them. How can you use this to benefit the team and positively impact the mission? Give feedback often and set high, but achievable, expectations. Hold them accountable to these expectations and apply the appropriate corrective actions where and when needed. If nobody is dying, then there is plenty of time to get both sides of the story. Always think about training your replacement. Get intimately involved in their qualification and upgrade training. Be approachable. If they are more comfortable going to visit with the first sergeant than with you, there might be a problem. Nobody knows it all, so keep an open mind and be open to the idea that you could learn from them and receptive to their feedback.
Ultimately, you need to own it. Know and understand the enormous impact you have as a front line supervisor. We can’t afford to let day-to-day operations and continuous competing interests keep us from that responsibility. Your relationship and the deliberate development of your subordinate starts with you. We have to get this one right. Today’s subordinates are tomorrow’s leaders and they are counting on us to get it right today.