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NEWS | May 19, 2014

Supervising: It’s a really tough job

By Lt. Col. Adam DiGerolamo 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, commanding officer

Being a supervisor is a tough job and an awesome responsibility. Good supervisors are critical to any organization's success, yet it is often a thankless job, in most cases. What does a supervisor do exactly? I recently asked some people what their ideas were. Some replies: a taskmaster; an enforcer of the rules; someone who holds people accountable; someone who is demanding, consistent and fair; a peacemaker; a goal setter; someone who sets the example and can "walk the walk."

While I agree with most of these qualities, I tend to have a broader approach on the subject. Here are some attributes of supervisors that I think are important, that I have gleaned from my 18 plus years of being supervised.

A good supervisor, in my opinion, needs to focus on the "good." I've seen some supervisors who focus on the bad too much. They walk around documenting every failure, every mistake and perceived misstep. It's as if they were getting paid more for each mistake they find.

I once asked a supervisor why they did that. "How can I differentiate the good workers from the great workers if I don't document all of the mistakes?" was the answer. My retort was simple. Give your people the encouragement, the tools, the opportunities and the mentoring they need so they will have all the opportunity to succeed.

When one focuses on the bad all the time, you tend to get what you focus on. If you don't like what you see, change your focus ... to the good stuff! Focus on things that tell your workers "you can," not things that send a message of "you can't."

Ken Blanchard in the "One-Minute Manager" says it well; "The key to developing people is to catch them doing something right." I also feel that a good supervisor must continually strive to find ways to help all of their people succeed, not just a chosen few. Focusing on the good is a great start. Knowing the plans, dreams, goals and aspirations of those who work for you are required to help you work toward their successes. Is one of them up for promotion soon? Does someone have a goal to be an instructor or cross train into another AFSC? If you know these types of things, you can make sure you are giving them the jobs, training, additional duties and experiences that can help them realize their dreams.

A good supervisor must also be patient. Perfection does not occur overnight, but mistakes will. A good supervisor must allow honest mistakes. If all missteps are documented and dealt with in a negative way, the word will get out quickly that mistakes are not allowed. Workers will tend to protect themselves and others by not admitting their mistakes. Improvements cannot occur if problems are hidden. If each one of us had all of our mistakes and shortcomings addressed and dealt with, none of us would still be around to do any work! Don't create a workplace where workers are afraid to admit mistakes.

A good supervisor must never belittle or allow others to belittle another co-worker. This is obvious, isn't it? Yet, I've seen it happen far too often. Don't let it happen in your workplace without addressing it ... immediately. It's just one way of treating everyone with respect. Another way to think about it (and most of us have heard it time and time again), "praise in public, criticize in private." I'll add one more rule: never yell.

I strongly feel that a good supervisor must allow an atmosphere of open communication. Communication is so important. It's the key to any hope of solving a problem or making improvements. It must not only be allowed, but encouraged. Supervisors who place severe restrictions on who, what and when workers can discuss issues are, in my opinion, a little insecure. I've never seen a fair, confident, well-respected supervisor restrict open discussions.

Finally, the ultimate goal of a good supervisor should be to create an environment where people want to come to work, feel good about their workplace and themselves, and feel like they are making a contribution. How can this possibly be achieved? A great start would be to focus on the good in your people, strive to help all of them succeed, be patient and allow honest mistakes, treat them with respect, never yell, and allow an atmosphere of open communication. After all of that, you may just succeed!