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Is that what you’re teaching them?

By Chief Master Sgt. Scott Lawrence 2nd Communications Squadron

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When things didn't go exactly right, one of my favorite flight commanders would say to the senior NCOs, "Is that what you're teaching them?"

Experiencing the Air Force as a supervisor today is much different than it was 10 years ago. Leadership, guidance and mentorship can not be emphasized enough. Today's supervisor is leading in a difficult time of change.

Chairman of the Joint Chief's of Staff, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, recently stated, "Some of the change is happening so quickly we have no idea how (it) will end up." Everyone must deal with right-sizing the force, operations tempo, budget constraints, the media, world opinion, outsourcing and the virtual Air Force.

Right-sizing the force requires supervisors to have knowledge in the areas of manning, budget and mission impact. They must assess who is left, what resources are available and how the mission can be sustained. Then, they must communicate these assessments both up and down the chain of command. Their actions and words are constantly on display.

In the past, Air Force members received most information through commanders, first sergeants and supervisors; not so today, the Internet and e-mail has changed all that. This is why supervisors need to keep the face-to-face and mentorship opportunities in the forefront. Military members can get information at the click of a mouse, but do they understand some of the information communicated to them?

Professional military education places a lot of focus on leadership. I think supervisory and teaching roles are somewhat taken for granted. Speaking primarily about the enlisted force, when we talk career progression, we start with the helper and apprentice roles. Next, we develop into the journeyman and craftsman levels. Lastly, you reach the manager and superintendent positions. As we progress through the skill levels we are mainly focused on our technical abilities. How do we get there? We are taught by our trainers and supervisors.

Every Airman learned followership in basic training and technical school. They show up at their first duty assignment with the mindset of learning still. It is now up to the first-line supervisor and trainer to make lasting impressions. This is the time for teaching, and at many times, it resembles parenting. As you develop your teaching skills and attend professional military education, your leadership skills will develop as well.

Looking back, it was the one-on-one time I spent with supervisors and mentors that made the most impact on my military life. First, it was two senior NCOs who taught me to learn my job and work hard. Then there was a command chief, who taught me professionalism. I later met a chaplain, who taught me forgiveness and renewing my faith. I learned "jointness" working with an Army sergeant major. Lastly, from a deployed command chief, I learned balance. The command chief emphasized mind, body and family. If you are troubled in any one area, you are out of balance and thereby not at your best in supporting the mission. A supervisor, co-worker or leader within the chain of command should be able to recognize the signs of the imbalance and act accordingly.

According to legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, "Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will all be judged on one thing: the result."

Supervisors must be the constant reminder for subordinates on a myriad of issues, policies and current events. Communicating through a virtual world through e-mail, Internet and Web-based tools saves time and manpower, but cannot replace the human value of the supervisor, first sergeant and commander. They are still needed to help guide and mentor on uniform wear, physical training, performance, training, education and so on. Supervisors still need to know their people to aide in identifying and seeking assistance for possible abuse, hardships, DUIs or suicide risk. The Air Force Benefits Fact Sheet and Feedback Worksheets are useful tools in helping supervisors mentor, educate and guide subordinates.

With the rapid changes and smaller force, the supervisor and mentor still play a significant role in the continued success of air power. Vince Lombardi once said, "They call it coaching, but it is teaching. You don't just tell them ... you show them the reasons."