Reach past the surface -- be a true mentor, guide, friend

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Drost
  • 71st Operations Support Squadron commander
Supervisors, you need to know your Airmen, and you need to know your peers. It's a simple-sounding task that is surprisingly difficult to execute.

Really getting to know your fellow Airmen usually requires asking personal questions that go beyond the facades posted on social media sites. As uncomfortable as these discussions sometimes can be, they are essential to the health of a squadron. 

The Air Force requires supervisors to talk with their Airmen during initial and midterm feedback through the Airmen Comprehensive Assessment Worksheet (Air Force Forms 724, 931, and 932). These forms prompt supervisors to discuss particular topics.

Cynics say that these questions should be asked on a consistent basis instead of being used occasionally to satisfy a requirement. The cynics are right.

This worksheet is a tool that supervisors should refer to daily as they relate to their subordinates. Having been on both sides of the conversation over the years, I know subordinates feel pressure at times to tell their supervisor what they think they want to hear. As a supervisor, I know I have had Airmen tell me what they think is the correct "Air Force" answer.

This is the challenge of every supervisor: to know more about a person than the small space on a rating form can hold. When you ask a few questions and realize your subordinate needs a trusted guide, then this is the Airman you need to work to understand.

I have told many supervisors in my squadron that I had better not know their subordinates better than they do, and I intend to make this a challenge for our supervisors. I try to ask the difficult questions to perceive where Airmen might need help or guidance.

As a peer, the topics are also a great starting point for productive discussions with friends and co-workers. For example, discussing the "importance of refusing to partake in inappropriate behavior(s) despite social pressure" is a completely different conversation when coming from a peer instead of a supervisor.

I would assume most Airmen's standard response to a supervisor would be a nod and a "Yes ma'am, I fully understand the importance of not going along with peer pressure."

Imagine the impact a young senior airman could have on a new airman first class by initiating a similar conversation with an assuring, "Don't worry about doing that to fit in - we aren't that type of squadron."

Another great exercise for all Airmen regardless of rank would be to insert the word "Fellow" into the "Knowing Your Airman" section for supervisors. Giving this form to your respected peers and asking them to rate you would probably spark some interesting conversations.

Peer-group Airmen can assume a leadership role in the squadron simply by getting to know those whom they work with daily, and in doing so, they are preparing for future supervisory jobs. I challenge you to have a 10-minute discussion on a single topic from the Airmen Comprehensive Assessment Worksheet. What would you tell a friend or a peer that you might not discuss with a boss?

Commanders cannot know every Airmen under their command. Get to know the Airmen next to you on a deeper level through personal interaction. If the only topics of conversation in flight rooms and offices involve pop culture, lunch choices and sports, everyone is staying safely on the surface of life.

But since life is so often unsafe, uncertain and uncomfortable, let's reach past the surface. It's the only way to be a true mentor, guide and friend to our fellow Airmen.