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Transitioning to responsibility

By Chief Master Sgt. Cornell Johnson 2nd Medical Group

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Growing up, my family consisted of 12 siblings--six boys and six girls, with me as the youngest. One of my brothers is exactly 20 years my elder, with two brothers senior to him. My father was the bread winner and my mother was a housewife that seasonally worked outside the home. This was the routine until my father's death in 1969.

Our loss forced my mother into the role of bread winner, which caused my older brothers and sisters to take on more responsibility as leaders in our home. They transitioned from siblings to leaders overnight. They became supervisors, caregivers, disciplinarians and mentors at an early age.

In the Air Force, we witness this same overnight transition to leader with our staff sergeants. One day you are one of the Airman tier-group; the next day you are the "they" (supervisor or leader). In this tier, we begin the responsibility to train, equip and develop those in our charge. This, I feel, is probably the toughest promotion transition in the Air Force.

Now your personal relationship can't outweigh your professional relationship. You must understand your new role; you have entered a new tier-group of junior non-commissioned officers. There is a line of authority that separates you from the Airman tier. You and your subordinates must respect this line of authority. One of the actions to implement this line of authority is changing your first name to sergeant with your subordinates. Your rank is a subtle change that establishes boundaries with your personnel.

I'm not advocating boasting in your authority; remember, we make the rank, the rank doesn't make us. You must always keep an open relationship with your personnel; they must know you are available to them at all times.

As with my older siblings that first encounter as disciplinarian can be tough. Here's where feedback is most effective. It allows your personnel to know your expectations and provides for a smooth transition to all.

The old adage "Familiarity breeds contempt" is relevant in this situation. There were things you did with your former Airman tier that will blur the line of your authority now. Everyone does not need to know how you let your hair down. You can't allow inappropriate relationships to compromise your authority; this holds true for all personnel; enlisted, officers and civilians.

Be honest...can you effectively make a tough decision concerning someone too close to you or that has seen you in a compromising position? You probably can, but that pause or compromise could affect good order and discipline in a unit. You must show impartiality with your personnel, equally distribute your time with all. Most times this is personality driven; some people are more open to interaction than others. This has a reverse effect as well, the subordinate sees you in a different light also.

If you lose credibility with your personnel, will they seek you out for help? It takes a lifetime to build credibility, but it can be lost in a moment. One of my older brothers mentored me in a personal area of my life, later I found out he was not applying that principle in his life. It caused me to see him differently; I was disappointed, I felt like everything he told me was a lie.

In retrospect, I learned two things; the principle he taught me and much more from the mistake he made. As life goes, I learned that people make mistakes and I could not hold this against him. Nevertheless, the effect is the same for our subordinates, will they forgive or let it go and trust you again. Why chance it?