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Taking care of your peeps

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- It is important to recognize a job well done, whether it is with quarterly or annual awards, letters of appreciation or just a pat on the back. When the people who work for you feel valued as team members, they perform to the best of their ability. We hear it all the time "take care of your people," but saying this and putting this into practice are very different. There are a few simple ways to really take care of your people which, in turn, make a supervisor's job much easier.

Empower them! Empowering your people to improve processes they have direct control over gives them a sense of ownership. It's like anything else; if you own something you are more likely to take good care of it, rather than just borrowing it and returning it when you're done.

The military is a diverse group of people. Take advantage of the different ideas people have by allowing them to give input in the processes they are part of. Implement their ideas as much as possible. As long as the idea does not violate an Air Force Instruction or common sense, implement it. When their ideas are employed, they know their input is valued and can make a difference.

Stand up for their ideas, even if it doesn't work as well as expected. Allow them to find out whether their idea was a good one, and if not, have them come up with how they are going to tweak it to make it work better. They need to know that you as their leader will back up their decisions. When a diverse group of people are working toward improvements, it's an easy way to work smarter, not harder and to quit doing things just because "that's the way it has always been done."

Recognize them. Write packages, letters of appreciation or just verbally tell them they are doing a good job. Military writing is much different than everyday language and therefore requires practice, practice, practice. One of my professional goals is to become the supervisor who writes packages so well they always win.

There are many ways to practice most people don't think about. Writing your own bullets is one way to do this. No one will care about your career more than you do, make it easy on your supervisor by keeping track of your accomplishments and providing them bullets for them to write in your performance reports and or recognition packages. Your supervisor will appreciate the input, helping to ensure your record is an accurate reflection of your achievements.

Another way to practice is by writing quarterly and or annual awards on the people who work for you. This not only recognizes your people throughout the year, it gives you a jump start on writing their performance report. The more bullets you write and receive feedback on, the better you will become.

Be a leader! The people who work for you expect you to lead them. Be the example for them to follow. If you expect them to stay late until the work is done, make sure you are willing to do the same. Just as important as recognizing hard workers, as a leader you must also "be the bad guy" and correct problems as they happen. There are few things in life more frustrating than working for someone that ignores issues because they do not like confrontation. Ignoring problems is a quick way to destroy the morale of your workers and ensure the workplace is the last place they want to be. Corrective actions should be just that, a way to fix a small issue before it becomes a huge problem. By the time a supervisor finds out about the problem you can pretty much guarantee most of their coworkers already know. By not dealing with it in a professional manner, it can be detrimental to their trust in you as a leader. It's all in the approach. Corrective actions are not usually comfortable, so make sure each situation is approached objectively and professionally. They may not like you correcting them, but if they are receptive to your actions, they will be thankful it was taken care of early, before it became a huge problem.

Make a decision! Another important part of being a leader is to be decisive. Make decisions knowing we are not all perfect. Bad ones will be made, but what's important is how you deal with the fallout from them that define you as a leader. Treat bad decisions as an opportunity to learn - correct the problem and move on. No one wants to hear whose fault it is, just own up to it, fix it and don't make the same mistake twice.

Another important aspect of being decisive is providing your supervisors as much information as possible for them to make fact-based decisions. Always treat a superior's time as if it is much more valuable than your own. Provide them with point papers, talking papers or staff summary sheets as often as possible. Make their job of decision making easy as well. Decisive leaders get things done - cautious ones get far less accomplished.

Using these few strategies at work will enhance your ability to take care of your peeps up and down the chain. People inherently want to do a good job. Create a culture in your workplace which promotes creativity and hard work. Recognize good performers, but also know you must correct problems as they happen. Facilitate decisiveness, support your people and provide your superiors the right information so they too can be decisive. We spend the majority of our time with the people we work with, make it as productive and enjoyable as possible.