Approach is Everything

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sergeant Tim Bolon
  • 28th Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant
Are you one of those people who feels you need to light up an Airman whenever he does something wrong? If you really think about it, what are you proving when you do that? Are you trying to prove you're the boss? I believe the stripes on your arm or the insignia on your collar are indicators that you are in charge. An individual once told me he lit up an Airman like the Fourth of July. I asked him what he was trying to prove and he said it made him feel better. What did he really prove and what did the Airman get out of it?

It's absolutely imperative supervisors be approachable by people in their sections or units. It may seem like a given that a first sergeant is approachable, but I've heard of first sergeants who are feared by those assigned to their units. Years ago, I heard of a first sergeant whose goal was to try to make Airmen urinate on themselves while standing tall in his office. Crazy, but it's true, and yes, he's retired now. Unbelievable. What was he trying to prove, and why didn't someone stop him?

When you get ready to counsel an Airman, do you think about your approach? When I have an Airman in my office, I let them sit down and we talk about the issue at hand. I can count on both hands how many times I've had an Airman standing tall in my office. I think some supervisors believe they have to make people stand at attention to make their point. I have reserved that honor for those Airmen who are just not getting it, or those who have disrespected me.

I was recently giving an Airman a letter of reprimand. He was sitting down in my office and we were discussing what he did and what actions he was going to take so it didn't happen again. I noticed out of the corner of my eye his supervisor was smiling and shaking his head. I asked the supervisor what was wrong and he stated he had never seen someone get a letter of reprimand like that before. I turned and asked the Airman if he had just received a letter of reprimand, and he stated he had.

It's more important to me for Airmen to feel they can talk to me about anything than to have them fear me. I feel the only way a supervisor can really get away with chewing someone out, is if they truly know the person, because it means more then. It's more important that we discuss things with Airmen and help them resolve their problem or situation. They learn more and are more willing to come back for help if they feel they can talk to you. Now, don't get me wrong. There may be times when you need to be stern with people, but don't ever yell. It's unprofessional.

It's every supervisor and leader's job to take care of their people. If an Airman calls or comes by my office with an issue, I try my best to take care of it right then and there. The issue may seem trivial to me, but to the Airman it may be huge and I may be the only person he feels can fix it. It may only require a phone call or it may require a little more work. So the next time one of your Airmen asks for your help, think about how they may feel and just take care of them as soon as possible. You'll get a lot of respect if you do.

Lastly, is your behavior consistent? Do you come into work one day all happy and the next day you're ready to bite off someone's head? Years ago, I had an unpredictable boss. Sometimes, you would get invited in for coffee and then other times he would flip out while discussing a basic issue. Being consistent in your behavior is very important, because your Airmen need to know what they can expect each and every day.

So, if you're a leader or supervisor and you sit in your office day-in and day-out and no one comes by to see you for advice or calls to ask a question, you are most likely doing something wrong and probably need to think about your approach or leadership style.
Remember, it's not all about you and your ego; it's about developing Airmen.