What is the foundation of a professional relationship?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Greg Reich
  • 97th Civil Engineer Squadron commander
Many people talk about unprofessional relationships. This, in light of events over the past few years, is a good thing. In Air Force Instruction 36-2909, Professional and Unprofessional Relationships, "an unprofessional relationship is one that, whether pursued on or off-duty, detracts from the authority of superiors or results in, or reasonably creates the appearance of, favoritism, misuse of office or position, or the abandonment of organizational goals for personal interests. Unprofessional relationships can exist between officers, between enlisted members, between officers and enlisted members and also military personnel and civilian employees or contractor personnel. Fraternization is a specific relationship between an officer and enlisted member that crosses customary bounds of acceptable behavior." These are all things that are detrimental to our Air Force's goals and those of the Department of Defense. We should have "Service Before Self" etched in our hearts and do nothing to detract from the mission.

So, what should we do? Professional relationships are listed first in the instruction--we should start there. The instruction gives a framework. The framework allows us to communicate freely with superiors regarding careers, performance, duties and missions. These four keys to professional relationships, per the instruction, are the foundation of professional relationships.

Whether you are a first term Airman or a career Airman (someone who has been in the service a long time) you need to have someone to talk to about your career--some people call them "mentors." Over the years, there have been several senior officers who have helped guide me along the way with "what the next step should be" or what I should put on a job application. Sometimes all I needed to do to get this advice from them was to ask for guidance. So, don't be afraid to say "can you help me with getting ahead." I'm sure your supervisor or chief, to name a few, is eager to help you chart your career path.

I know, in addition to senior officers, I've asked for help from several senior enlisted leaders on how to help others in their careers or when writing performance reports to help others get ahead. You know what? It's worked. Careers were and are enhanced either in or out of the Air Force.

What about duty performance? Who doesn't want to do better? Studying, hard work and just getting to work on time are good things for you to do. But, for supervisors being involved with your subordinates will enhance their performance and help them learn their duties better. Benjamin Franklin said, "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."

A few assignments ago, I was able to help guide construction training projects. The plan was simple, pick a small project that involved as many skill sets that are in a civil engineer squadron and team a lieutenant or captain with staff sergeants from those areas to plan and then lead the construction effort. Senior enlisted and officers were only allowed to be asked for advice or ask questions about those designs or construction efforts. This was great learning for all parties. How do I know? The officers who went on to other jobs told me they were applying what they had learned on those small jobs in bigger planning and construction efforts. This is one example, but it shows that getting people involved helps with performance and duties.

What I believe the real point in focusing on professional relationships is the positive and lasting impact on the mission. Do you know where you fit in with the mission of your unit? For example, what does repairing the air conditioner in a flight simulator have to do with the mission of the 97th Air Mobility Wing to forge combat mobility forces? The answer is that more 'flying' is accomplished daily in a simulator than on the runway and a malfunctioning air conditioner can mean shutting down the simulator and losing "sorties." This is mission impact. Think about how a supervisor discussing this with their team can help motivate them. Would you take extra care by knowing that you are helping a cargo plane or tanker off the ground and that crew will be prepared for "the fight" after leaving Altus?

Knowing what the mission is and what you are doing affects it will change how you prioritize your workload. So, when we in civil engineering have a mission to "build, sustain and protect Altus Air Force Base," we directly stoke the forge of combat mobility ... so America can project combat power.

So, think about professional relationships and how you can form one or more. It may take some courage. But, in the end, the relationships you form or keep will help us "fly, fight and win." With your determined efforts in forging professional relationships, we can close in and destroy the enemy wherever they are. Professional relationships are important! Build on the foundation of career, performance, duty and mission for positive professional relationships.