Being a supervisor, leader is not always easy


In my 37 years of service to the United States Air Force, both as an active duty Chief Master Sergeant and Senior GS civilian supervisor, I have always wondered why many supervisors find honest feedback, both positive and negative difficult. Is it that some supervisors do not want to be confrontational? Want to be liked? Don’t have the skills to confront poor performance? There are a myriad of reasons or excuses, however, by not being honest and holding all employees to the same standard can lead to disastrous results in an organization. This is also true for recognizing outstanding performance. To be successful and build trust throughout an organization, there must be honest interaction between supervisors or managers and all employees. Leaders must be engaged with their subordinates, encourage, support, and be honest with them. There are many different types of leadership styles that can be used, however one must assess the situation and choose the best course of action. I’m not saying that this will result in 100% trust from everyone. There will always be the skeptical ones. However, setting a standard and consistently sticking to it will build trust throughout the organization. Employees will know what to expect for both poor and outstanding performance.

I constantly come into situations where supervisors come to me saying how bad their employee is and how they are not team players. My first question to them is, have you sat them down and told them they are not performing well and documented the counseling? Majority of the time the answer is no. As supervisors, to build trust we must not shade the truth when interacting with employees. Bill Howatt, author of ‘How managers can improve honesty at work’ noted that “The degree of trust between managers and employees at all levels ultimately defines the degree in which employees view their organization as trustworthy.” I know it is very difficult to tell someone that they are not performing well. However, if there is no transparency and honesty between the supervisor and subordinate, trust will never be established and the mission will suffer. I find that consistency with honest feedback and counseling, both positive and negative breed trust in an organization. In my years of service, I have embraced both the negative and positive experiences I have encountered. This has only helped me create my own doctrine of effective leadership.

When I first started out in the military, my supervisor was a poor leader. He did not encourage his team for success, did not care about innovation, had favorites, looked terrible in uniform, constantly blamed others for the section’s problems, and did not encourage growth for his subordinates. Actually, I can’t remember a time he praised or recognized anyone for a job well done! I remember how I felt at the time and vowed that I would never treat anyone the way he treated us. So, 37 years later, I still remember and remind myself to never make the same mistakes! Methods that I have used may not be successful for all, however they have helped me to lead and motivate personnel throughout my military and civilian career. As I mentioned before, there are many different leadership styles; Autocratic, Democratic, Strategic, Transformation, Team, Cross-Cultural, Facilitative, Laissez-faire, etc. Each style has an important role and can be effective depending on the situation. For me, the most important aspect of leadership is trust! Knowing your team and treating everyone fairly is critical to the success of the unit. Get out and about, watch your team at work, recognize their successes and help them on their failures. Be an innovative leader, challenge your team to make it better! Finally, provide honest feedback, take appropriate and timely disciplinary actions and recognize outstanding performance and be consistent because your team is always watching you! Be that inspiring supervisor that is preparing our future leaders for success.