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Open Ranks: Supervisors: if the job stinks, empower - don't task!

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stacy Fowler
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
In public affairs, I've done almost everything: photographing aircraft mishaps at 1 a.m.; coming in at 5 a.m. and not leaving until 10 p.m. for high-level tours and stories; working holidays and weekends supporting base events; and hundreds of ceremonies (yes, in 14 years I've done at least one or two hundred).

I used to do it because I was ordered to as an Airman and I really disliked most of it. Now I volunteer to do those not-so-pleasant jobs so that my Airmen can have a little "me" time or family time, and don't get burned out or become the slightly-cynical sergeant that I am today.

Too many times in my career I've heard supervisors say, "I used to have to do this job and it was bad it's your turn!" Then the supervisor would walk into their office, pick up their coffee and start doing something on the computer.

That's the wrong way of doing business and I hate to break it to you, but you're no longer a leader, you're a manager.

When I became a staff sergeant and supervisor, I'd try to be one of the first to say, "I used to have to do this job and it go back to work, and I'll get it done." Or I'd say "How about I help you get it done?"

I remember how bad some jobs were and I don't want my Airmen to think they are always stuck with the short straw. That way, they will help me when I need it, and maybe even volunteer for the next job.

If you show your Airmen that you're not above doing those unpleasant jobs, then they might be more inclined to say, "No worries, sarge, I got this!"

These young men and women are smart and getting smarter with every new crop of Airmen fresh out of basic training. They realize some jobs just have to be done, and there isn't a lot of people to do them. If they see their leaders doing the heavy work they'll be more inclined to step up.

Now you're probably saying, "Hey, I have a spouse and kids, too, and I want my "me" time because I've earned it." Or even, "I've done my share of awful jobs, now I can make my Airmen do them to build character and show them what the military is really like." Heard it, seen it - but thankfully haven't done it.

That's the trick about being a good leader - just because you can make your Airmen do a not-so-nice job or come in on a day off for several hours, doesn't mean you should...unless it's a real no-kidding emergency and they are the only person able to handle it.

It's all about empowerment - make sure they have buy-in, even if it's, "This will make an awesome EPR bullet, and may get you kudos from leadership." Then there's a higher chance it will turn into a volunteer opportunity instead of a "volun-told" tasking.

Things have definitely changed since I signed up in 1997 - I remember painting rocks at my first duty station and hating it because I was ordered to do it... and the Airman next to me was having a blast because he volunteered and was going to get a great EPR bullet from it.

And before you say it, yes - there are certain times when you just have to task that Airman to do a job. But that doesn't mean you can't still give them some buy in, or maybe a perk or two to make that bitter pill easier to swallow. (A white chocolate mocha or hot chocolate with whipped cream worked for me then, and still works today!)

I like to say, "Treat me as a professional, you'll get a professional job out of me - but treat me like a lackey, and I'll do the bare minimum."

I try very hard to view every single military member as a professional and treat them as such. Am I perfect? No - but I try, and if I inadvertently "volun-tell" someone to do a task, I will try to help them out where I can and will make it up to them later.

That way, maybe next time my Airmen will step up instead of stepping out of the way.