TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Seeing the newly selected staff sergeants recently brought back memories of when I was selected for staff sergeant.
Actually, my thoughts went to the night I graduated Airman Leadership School. As I crossed the stage after receiving my completion certificate, my co-workers gathered to congratulate me and shake my hand. My supervisor, Staff Sgt. Todd Mitchell, stayed back at the table and as I approached he shook my hand and said, “I’ve got your back.”
I said, “Thank you,” as I sat down.
While cheering on my fellow graduates, I started thinking of what my supervisor said to me. What did he mean? I expected “Congratulations” or “You did awesome,” but not “I’ve got your back.”
The next morning at work, I immediately asked my supervisor if we could talk.
I asked him, “What did you mean last night when you said, ‘I’ve got your back?’” His response was surprising and informative.
“Everyone has a specific role in our section,” he said. “Before yesterday, your role was to master skills required as an Airman and a Health Service Management Apprentice. Today, your role changes to a frontline supervisor which includes responsibility for others. My duties also changed today, I am now your first line of defense, meaning I’ve got your back.”
He explained, as tasks flow down from above, I will always keep you informed and prepared to complete the mission. Also, leadership will always be aware of what you and your Airmen are working on and what requirements are being met and exceeded. Most importantly, you will make many decisions affecting personnel on a personal level as well as a professional level. Your Airmen will not always agree with you and they will come to me.
“When this happens, I want you to know, I’ve got your back,” he continued. “I will never question your decisions in front of subordinates and will never ask you to change your mind on a decision as long as it upholds the values of the Air Force. I have to make sure your subordinates understand you are the leader and will make the decisions.”
That single conversation made me a better supervisor and leader. Throughout my entire career those words have been engraved in my mind. Mitchell was right that night. I didn’t need the usual congrats, good job or well done on my graduation night. I needed to be reminded what my next step in my career was and what responsibilities lie ahead as an NCO. His words gave me the confidence in my abilities to be not only the NCO I was back then, but also the chief master sergeant and leader I am today.
I have stayed in touch with now retired Master Sgt. Todd Mitchell, for advice and mentoring. We still talk about that conversation and how he knew exactly what I needed to hear that day. He reminded me as I, in turn, remind you, “Those we lead need to know they have leaders who will stand behind them through the good and the bad.”
Today, I challenge all of you to let your subordinates know you have their back.