Right-14, left-27, right-08 doesn’t open every safe

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

There is not a more important position in our Air Force than that of being a supervisor, but just being put in charge of personnel is not enough.

A supervisor is responsible for influencing his or her followers to perform an action, complete a task, or behave in a specific manner. 

In order to be an effective Supervisor and to better communicate with your Airmen, stop trying to use your gym locker combination to open them up. Dialing “Right 14, Left 27, Right 08” on every locker in the gym is only going to get you into your locker. Every one of our U.S. Air Force Airmen has differences in personality, hopes, aspirations, and dreams, and they will respond differently to different motivators much like your gym locker only responds to its own combination.

As a technical sergeant, I was given the opportunity to lead 64 loadmasters while our superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Daran Adams, deployed for 120 days. Right before he left, we sat down and he gave me a simple crash course on the importance of being an effective leader. He listed off a few names to me and asked me what I thought made them tick.

Before I could even get through the second name, he cut me off and said “Mike, you have to know your Airmen. You are giving me the same combination, the combination that works for you, but it doesn’t work for everyone else.” He went on to explain people are as different as combination locks and if I was to get the most from each one of them, I would have to “crack their safe.”

Ever since that simple 15-minute conversation, I have always invested the time to get to know the Airmen in my squadron. I have used the word simple several times now, but in no means is this “simple.” Every person has a different reason for why they joined the Air Force, different values, beliefs, and goals than perhaps you do. The challenge is how are you, as the supervisor, going to tie in their goals to improve your squadron and our Air Force?

There is not a bigger responsibility given in our Air Force than to become a supervisor. Supervisor responsibilities are not given to individuals to make the mission better, it is given to make the people better and in-turn the mission will take care of itself.

Remember, it is NOT your Airman’s responsibility to open up to you when he or she doesn’t recognize the combination you are dialing. You have to crack their safe, and in order to achieve that you will have to alter your communication methods to get them to disclose their combination to you.