What kind of supervisor do you want to be?

  • Published
  • By CMSgt. Ronald McAtee
  • 97 Medical Group
I've been a part of this Air Force "deal" for a long time and I've seen my share of good and bad supervisors. They come in all shapes and sizes, but really great supervisors are worth their weight in gold. We should all strive to be the best supervisor and leader we can be. But what does it really mean to be a great supervisor?

Well, I've not done any double-blind studies recently, but I have been involved with many professional development seminars and enlisted panels. At those events, I like to make people think and then ask a simple question. First, I ask for folks to think back over their Air Force career and come up with whom they believe was the best supervisor they've ever had, and then ask: "What qualities or characteristics stand out that made that individual the best?" I've gotten a lot of answers, but clearly there is a central theme. Here are the top answers I've heard (in no particular order):

1) Cared about me and my family - took time to get to know me and know what was going on in my life. Knew my family's names and checked in to see how things were going.

2) Treated me with respect as a person and valued my opinion - even when I was getting talked to for doing something wrong, I wasn't disrespected as a person. When I had an idea on how to improve what we were doing, I knew he/she would listen and consider my ideas and often used my ideas to make things better.

3) Set expectations and held me accountable to the standards (good and bad) - I clearly knew what was expected and was held to those standards along with everyone else. I knew if I messed up I was going to hear about it, but I knew I would also be rewarded for doing well.

4) Were consistent - I knew what to expect from my supervisor and I knew the rules applied evenly to all, not different rules for different people.

5) Communicated well - I always knew what was going on and where I stood.

6) Took time to mentor me to be better - supervisor talked with me about my future, my goals and helped find ways to push me to be better, even sometimes when I might not have wanted to be pushed. I really appreciated him/her looking out for me that way.

7) My supervisor led by example and was willing to help out when necessary - he/she didn't tell me one thing and then do something else or the opposite. They were the example. And I knew if things got busy, he/she would be there next to us getting their hands dirty to complete the mission.

8) Addressed issues up the chain when necessary - I was confident my supervisor was willing to weigh in where necessary to address issues that needed attention.

As you'll notice, the theme was not about how hard the supervisor worked or about how many impressive tasks they accomplished or how many hours they put in or how many awards they won. While these things are all very important to taking care of business and being a positive role model, what folks find as important in being the best supervisor is something different. It all centers on relationships. Yes, that's right, the relationships we build with our subordinates. Relationships are what make a difference long after the task accomplishments are completed. I'm not talking about being BFFs with your subordinates and that's not what they are looking for either.

Lead them! Set and clearly communicate the standards and expectations to all and be consistent in holding individuals accountable. You must reward and recognize subordinates publicly when they do well and privately correct when they miss the mark. Give them an avenue to voice road blocks and frustrations to mission accomplishment and value their input into making the processes better. Weigh in up and down the chain when it matters. Try to connect with them on a more personal level as well...know them as people and what makes them tick, along with what's going on in their lives. Grow them; take time to purposefully develop them as they move through their career.

None of this is rocket science and certainly this isn't the cookbook, all-inclusive list of qualities a great supervisor possesses. What it is however is a list of what's important to many different subordinates I've encountered in many venues. That in itself makes it worth listening to!

So I ask you again, "What kind of supervisor do you want to be?" Are you willing to do the right things to be the supervisor folks think of when someone asks them, "Who is the best supervisor you've ever had and why?" I hope so. It's really a small investment in the future with a potentially huge return for all.