We all remember our first...bad supervisor

  • Published
  • By Alethea Smock
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
“Women don’t belong in the Air Force and I will do everything I can to get you out. Starting now, you’ll be working on mid-shifts,” said my worst supervisor.

This meant I would be switching from the 3 p.m. to midnight to the midnight to 8 a.m. shift as a computer maintenance technician. Although, I could easily make the schedule work for mission purposes, I was very unwilling to adapt because a technical sergeant was not comfortable working around women.

That was the introduction to a bad manager as a junior two striper. Even though that conversation took place years ago, I can still remember everything about it.

When taking on a role leading a team, stop and ask yourself how you want your Airmen to remember you. In the Air Force, I notice so much of the time we get wrapped up in making sure we teach all ranks about leadership – how to be a good leader, leadership traits, followership to become a better leader, but not how to avoid the mistakes that result in poor morale.

The Harvard Business Review recently discussed what good leaders do in their everyday jobs. Generally, poor leaders tend to count value, not create value; they have circles of power, not influence; and they manage work not people.

You can recognize those with good leadership and management skills because they practice action-based leadership and lead by example. They are also adept at inspiring and influencing rather than exerting power and control.

In my case, my supervisor tried to manage through fear rather than influence. When leading your teams, do you count work output or do you create the opportunity for people to excel at their jobs? Do you get results from fear or from common ground? Do you task jobs based on workload rather than ensuring the right person has the tools and capabilities to get the job done right?

Here are some actions you can take to become a better manager.

Do: put your Airmen in for awards

Do not: ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself

Do: approach them as a human being

Do not: put your apathy on display

Do: make sure your Airmen have time to take care of themselves with PT time, to take a lunch, or complete training

Do not: ignore their inputs

Do: inspire them

Do: have integrity

Do not: complain

That technical sergeant was a terrible supervisor and I wish that I could say he was the only one. Between my private sector career where my division supervisor was known for throwing things when he was upset to stories I’ve heard since my return to the Air Force, it seems bad leadership is alive and well. Don’t be the one that rules through fear and production counts. Be the one who inspires your subordinates into greatness.

As for my encounter with the world’s worst supervisor when I was a junior Airman, he ran straight into the newly assigned female master sergeant who very quickly put him back in his place. That was a great day and I’m forever grateful that an inspired manager stepped in to help.