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News > Commentary - We are not friends
Maj. Sara Huiss
Maj. Sara Huiss
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We are not friends

Posted 6/2/2010   Updated 6/2/2010 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Maj. Sara Huiss
437th Maintenance Squadron

6/2/2010 - JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- As I finish my two years as a squadron commander, to say I have learned a lot about myself as a leader would be an understatement. If I were completely honest with myself, I would have to say as I entered command, I knew I was entering an amazing squadron with great people - but I really hoped that people would like and respect me, and the "being liked" part probably ranked highest on my list.

Two years later, I think I am respected as a leader, but I am not sure how "liked" I am. Although probably the biggest life lesson for me is that the "like me" part really doesn't matter, because my job as a leader is to enforce standards, not to be your friend.

As I started command, I thought I was going to fix everything those who came before me didn't. I had Airmen who weren't paying their bills on time, abusing family members, looked bad in their uniforms or needed haircuts, who were using drugs and Airmen who abused leave or just didn't show up for work.

Time after time, I kept hearing "Airman Snuffy is a great worker," but what I actually heard was "please don't kick out my buddy."

The bottom line however, is this: I don't care how great of a worker somebody is, I need great Airmen, which means living, eating and breathing Air Force core values. I've had great people in my squadron get caught driving under the influence and their supervisors told me I should take a stripe from other Airmen who got a DUI, but in this great guy's case, we shouldn't, because he's a great worker. I've upset several senior noncommissioned officers, because they were put on a mandatory fitness program for not presenting a proper military image in their uniforms.

To say I shocked people in my squadron would be an understatement, but my job as a leader is to be fair and consistent. I expect people to represent my squadron, group and wing properly. How is it fair to the other people in the Air Force doing the right thing if those screwing up never get documented, get in line with physical fitness standards or get the same punishment as Airmen who have gone before them? Don't the rules apply to everyone? My experience as a commander is that everyone seems to love the rules until they affect you. It's not about being your friend, it's about being fair.

Upsetting senior NCOs was not something I planned to come into this job and do or even something I enjoy, but I'm not their friends either. NCOs and senior NCOs are leaders too and should be setting the example - not making excuses for why they can't be the example.

If it feels strange I had a technical sergeant tell me once he appreciated working for me and that he knew sometimes the decisions I made weren't popular. He also said that although some didn't like the decision, the majority was happy someone noticed and took action. Nobody likes to tell someone that they look overweight ... it's just rude and who wants to intentionally hurt someone's feelings?

However, we have Air Force Instruction 36-2905 and for good, healthy reasons we need to be and remain physically fit. Often times people who are staying fit and abiding by the standards don't get recognized for doing the right thing, so why are leaders treating those breaking the rules the same way? I argue that they should be recognized for not doing the right thing and appropriate actions should be taken, because it's not fair to all the people doing the right thing.

Additionally, stop waiting for the shirt, chief or squadron commander to be the "bad guy." We can do it and have no problem being that guy, but you are the supervisor who sees that person every day, so if I have to tell someone to get a haircut or that they need to lose weight etc., I'll ask the supervisor why they did nothing about it. I guarantee the person would rather hear it from you than have it highlighted to their squadron leadership; after all we're not here to be friends.

My time as a squadron commander has forced me to care less about people liking me, and more about people seeing me as fair and consistent. I have learned that complainers are really loud and content people don't have a whole lot to say - probably because they are content (I know--it's a pretty basic concept, but I didn't get it two years ago). I have learned that I can't fix everything and that I can't make everyone happy. I have learned people don't like to be told they are screwing up, but they would rather hear it from the lowest level.

To quote Master Sgt. Jamey Elms, "Last I looked we're not getting a bonus in our paycheck to be your friend."

If you make friends along the way (and you'll make a few), consider it an unpaid benefit.

6/8/2010 12:59:29 PM ET
I feel fortunate to have served under Maj Huiss prior to my current assignment. She is a true leader who sometimes had to make those tough unpopular decisions...not because she wanted to be mean but because it was the right thing to do for the squadron. As I face difficult decisions in my current job I frequently ask myself so what would Maj Huiss do
Maj Arthur Shields, Incirlik Air Base
6/6/2010 3:04:21 PM ET
I don't normally make comments but I would have been proud to have had you as my commander. So many people think you have to be a friend to get the job done. I disagree. During my 30 plus years I didn't have any friends but I had a group of Airman who would go thru a brick wall to accomplish the mission because I was taught to treat everyone with respect and dignity. As a young airman assigned to the 1608th Supply Sq. I had great supervisors who let me do my job and I carried that trait all the way thru my career. I'm proud of you Maj. Huiss don't change. Good luck on your next assignment and may you go far the rest of your career.John C. Green CMS Ret. USAF
John C. Green, Melbourne Florida
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