Take care of your people

  • Published
  • By Col. Kirsten Benford
  • 71st Medical Group commander

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- I often hear the statement “Take care of your people.”

What does that really mean? In the Air Force, we have many ways to take care of our people. A few that come to mind are mentoring, grooming, counseling and recognition.

Mentoring is often intangible. It happens frequently when the involved individuals aren’t planning for it. It could be a simple discussion about how to get from airman to chief, from secretary to manager or from lieutenant to colonel.

You never know when one of your Airmen is observing you to learn the pathway to success. Airmen, lieutenants and entry-level civilians all need guidance and mentorship. They also need someone to believe in them. Knowing this, I never miss an opportunity to mentor.

Grooming is sometimes used as a negative term. But to me it means that you are preparing someone for their next role.

One of my favorite quotes is “Surround yourself with those who see greatness within you even when you don’t see it yourself.”

When I was a captain I had a commander that gave me a small project. When I completed the project successfully, I could see she was proud of me and she continued to give me bigger and more complex projects. I showed her that I could follow through and produce excellent results.

Leaders have to be able to depend on subordinates at every level to follow through. As a leader, you have to be willing to take risks and delegate as you prepare subordinates for bigger and better roles. As a follower your job is to produce results.

Counseling can have a negative connotation, but without it we don’t learn about the areas we can improve. Being afraid to provide counseling is often the problem.

If we remember the purpose of counseling and turn it into constructive feedback, it’s very helpful to an individual who wants to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

We have all come across individuals who thinks very highly of themselves and have never been told otherwise. Supervisors who don’t give good, honest feedback are a detriment because when they are reassigned or retire, they are often replaced by a supervisor who holds individuals to standards and rates accordingly.

If you’ve ever seen an officer or enlisted performance report go from “outstanding” to “average,” it’s usually the lack of constructive feedback that prevented the individual from growing and being truly “outstanding.”

Last on the list, recognition in the form of awards, decorations and promotions. They are good ways to recognize your people and “take care of them.” As a captain, I had a strong work ethic. Once I had a very strong quarter with volunteerism, process improvements, a health fair and other accomplishments.

My flight commander recommended I write a quarterly award package. It wasn’t the first time I had a strong quarter, but it was the first time someone suggested my work might be worth an award, and I had been in the military for several years.

As a supervisor, it is your duty to find ways to recognize your people.

Not only should we respect our subordinates and encourage them to do their best daily, we should also put time and energy into showing our Airmen that their careers are very important to us.

When we mentor, groom, counsel and provide recognition, we are acknowledging their potential and reinforcing the future of the Air Force. We are taking care of our people.