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Airmen's message to those who lead

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Samuel Taylor
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Last week I was fortunate enough to be asked to serve as a member of the Airmen's panel at the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Professional Enhancement Seminar. I was excited to speak beside two sharp Airmen to a group of soon-to-be senior NCOs who wanted an Airman's perspective on their role as members of senior leadership. While we could not speak on behalf of all Airmen, we felt that we offered a perspective with which many of our peers would agree. Here are some of the pertinent points that were brought up, from which leaders throughout the enlisted and officer corps may benefit:

Tailor your direction specifically to us

"Airmen like direction and expectations; they give us a baseline from which we can judge ourselves at the end of the day. What is especially effective is allowing us to suggest decisions to help improve our judgment, and then guiding our proposals; however, when in tense situations where the decision is critical, we want you to take control so the right call is made - we will follow your lead.

Keep in mind that the amount of direction you give should be tailored to your audience. Airmen who are independent-thinkers, know the job, and are confident in their abilities should receive somewhat less direction and more flexibility to generate original ideas; they will know that their reputation is riding on the success of their proposed outcome and therefore will invest their full attention into their ownership of the situation. They will also recognize and appreciate that you understand and trust their knowledge of their job.

Less extroverted or prideful Airmen may benefit from detailed direction; they want to play things by-the-book to get the job done correctly, so they need to know what the rules are. Giving direction that is incompatible with your audience will likely lead to confusion or resentment, therefore knowing your audience is critical to leading Airmen appropriately."

Show appreciation for the role we serve

"Few people enjoy being the low person on the organizational totem pole; needless to say, taking out the trash, cleaning out closets, and moving chairs were not the occupational aspirations of many Airmen. We know these menial tasks are important, and that we fill the role that should be doing such tasks, so we "shut up and color." Nevertheless, it is important that we know our efforts are recognized, especially since we typically are not sitting on our hands waiting for an assignment. The axiom, "I did it when I was an Airman," is poor consolation - and worse justification - when we feel that our time should be spent toward more pressing ends. So lead by example: explain to us that you would take out your trash if it were not for a time-sensitive task, and that you appreciate us taking the time to do so. Next time, do one of these tasks yourself - we will notice, and feel that we are not simply "gofers," and that we are part of a team effort.

Taking a vested interest in our professional - and, to a lesser extent, personal - development also shows us that you want to see us evolve from followers into leaders. Ask us our goals and concerns, and then advise us on our options. Take the initiative in submitting award packages to bolster our self-esteem and let us know that you are monitoring our performance."

Do not build walls between us, or emphasize the ones that are already there

"Most Airmen are exceedingly aware of the rank on our sleeve and on yours, and know well what judgments others tend to make upon that basis. We know, and must sometimes be reminded, that we must adhere to a specific behavior conduct. Such realizations can lead to isolation and marginalization if the "you are just an Airman" drum is too often beat. Closed doors, whispered conversations that are still within earshot and Airman-excluding events all portray a common perceived message: you are an outlier, and there are things that we deem you should not be a part of.

If that is not the message you wish to portray, then take steps to knock down some of the walls that are not conducive to workplace productivity. Have shop-wide events and physical training to reduce the "us-versus-them" factor. Get to know some of the personal details of your Airmen to show them you value them as people, not simply as uniforms with few stripes."
Final thoughts

In the end, I felt the symposium offered a valuable forum for the exchange of ideas between Airmen and their leaders. However, there were important points that were not addressed, so ask your own Airmen how they feel processes can be improved, and policies revised - you may be surprised by the knowledge they can offer you.