Three tips to be a good supervisor

  • Published
  • By Col. Travis Harsha
  • 721st Mission Support Group and CMAFS Installation commander
With our country still at war and the fewest people we've had since the creation of our service, we need good supervisors to lead today and to develop our leaders for tomorrow. Being a good supervisor is not easy. It takes time, dedication and patience to gain a subordinate's trust, respect and loyalty to achieve and sustain high performance.

There are many leadership books and courses that discuss how best to supervise. But from all the books I've read and courses I've attended, three tips stick out: follow the golden rule, lead from the front, and set and enforce high standards.

First, follow the golden rule. Treat others as you want to be treated. "Be excellent" to each other and ensure others are "excellent" to each other. This elicits trust, respect and loyalty and promotes a culture of dignity and respect for all, one of our wing priorities. If everyone did this, we wouldn't have toxic leaders and cultures that commit or allow unethical behavior. Take care of your people. Listen. If your subordinates are not coming to you with problems, find out why and address it. As retired Army Gen. Colin Powell once said, "The day Soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."

Second, lead from the front. Be a role model. Your example, for better or worse, will influence your subordinates' thoughts, actions and behavior. As legendary UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden once said, "No written word, nor spoken plea, can teach our youth what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves; it's what the teachers are themselves." Follow the golden rule and walk the talk. Live the Air Force core values. Always do the right thing. Put service before self and strive to be the best in all you do.

Third, set and enforce high standards. Aim high and enforce standards. If you don't, you'll set new ones (lower ones), create more work for your supervisor and potentially set up the weak link that in the future could kill someone. For those unable or unwilling to perform, get them the help they need (training, resources or tough love) to get on track or find another job. Don't pass the buck.

By following the golden rule, leading from the front and setting and enforcing high standards, you'll elicit trust, respect and loyalty from your subordinates to do what you want with commitment and enhance your organizational climate and mission accomplishment. It's not easy, but anything worth accomplishing never is.