Walking into my first office as a one-striper Airman, not knowing what to expect was an exciting experience that came with a multitude of questions: what are my co-workers going to be like, what am I going to be doing, what will my supervisor be like?
I was lucky enough to have a great group of peers and a few mentors. However, my supervisor seemed to just not care. He would give me a task and walk away, leaving me to flounder and figure it out on my own. He would tell me not to do something only to turn around and do that exact thing himself. This was a noncommissioned officer who used his rank to get what he wanted without thinking about what his Airmen needed.
As an Airman, you learn fast that your supervisor is the person who has the most control over your career, with the exception of yourself. They dictate what you do, how you do it, when it is due, what you need to learn and, most importantly, how you will be rated. If you have a supervisor who does not care and does not lead then you have to learn on your own what the Air Force expects of you. When you come into work and watch your supervisor act hypocritically, it can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating.
Within my first week, my supervisor told me what I was not allowed to do, and that I needed to talk to the other Airmen to learn my daily operations. One of the first rules he laid out was the government computers were not to be used for personal use, but every time I saw him on his computer, he was scrolling through a Yankees webpage or looking into travel sites to New York. He would snap at anyone who was caught not working while at their computer. Sadly, that was the closest to a performance feedback I got from him for the 18 months that he was my supervisor.
I didn’t realize how bad my supervisor was until I moved to my next assignment and finally received my first feedback.
To be a supervisor in the Air Force, you must graduate Airman Leadership School, where you learn what it means to be a leader in the Air Force. In ALS, Airmen and NCOs learn how to be an NCO and leader. According to Air Force Instruction 36-2618, an NCO is expected to provide feedback, understand and mentor junior enlisted members, lead by example, take an active leadership role with their Airmen by staying involved and epitomize excellence.
It is one thing to learn in ALS what to do as a supervisor and to be taught the AFIs, but it is another to practice what you have been taught everyday as a supervisor and leader of Airmen. Because I have had a number of supervisors who were bad leaders and failed to do what they were supposed to, I have learned to make it a priority to make sure I never repeat their mistakes.
Reflecting on previous supervisors, I am now more motivated than ever to lead by example and make sure that I am giving my Airmen constructive feedback that helps guide and show them what they need to do to be successful in their careers and the Air Force.
You can grow as a supervisor by learning from and emulating the good mentors and leaders that have come before you. More importantly, you should learn from and avoid the mistakes of supervisors who made you shake your head, so when your new Airman shows up to their first duty station, they can answer the question “what will my supervisor be like?” with a positive response.