Know your troops

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Koopmans
  • 341st Space Wing Judge Advocates Office
"It's not what you have; it's what you do with what you have."

This is my personalized version of "You don't go to war with the army you wished you had, but with the army you have."

I have learned many leadership traits during my Air Force career, but today I would like to share one that I believe bonds all leadership traits together. Know your troops!

There are no "cookie cutter" troops, teams, shops etc.; they are all different. The Air Force is such a diverse group of individuals that your leadership style will not always transfer perfectly to your new unit or your new troops. Different people are motivated and mentored in different ways; getting to know the troops directly below you is a leader's first, and foremost, responsibility. If you can get to know who your troops are, how they think, what makes them tick and how they react in different situations, you can learn to "drive" them in an effective way and get them to live up to their full potential.

Many leaders I have encountered prefer to use the hammer to force a square peg through a round hole. It does get the job done. However, you are not going to realize the full potential of that individual. If you get to know your troops, you will eventually find the key that opens that person's phenomenal personal characteristic.

First sergeants learn this trait quickly in their line of work. Some troops might require a laid-back counseling session to achieve the same effect as a good old-fashioned dressing down of another individual. Too many times I have seen a supervisor take zero interest in the lives of their troops. I have seen, firsthand, individuals seeking out the mentorship of "outside" NCO's because they feel their own supervisor could care less about them personally.

You may demand respect from your troops for the uniform you are wearing, but you can only earn personal respect by taking a genuine interest in those below you. Those younger troops you are now mentoring are the future of our great Air Force. If you concern yourself more with strengthening the foundation of our military instead of concerning yourself with personal achievements, you will ensure air superiority for generations to come.

More recently, I have learned we, as troops, need to get to know our leaders. We all have been in the situation of having to "learn" our supervisor, what they expect, what will keep us out of trouble, etc., and then they leave. A new supervisor comes in and has a leadership style that is 180 degrees different than the supervisor who just left. You can find yourself in a heap of trouble and with more stress than you would like if you cannot get to know your new supervisor quickly. They will have different expectations and different leadership and management styles, but guess what? It doesn't mean they are wrong; it just means they are different.

As you progress through your career, you will learn many different leadership qualities and traits, but they will be less effective if you do not get to know your troops and your leaders. Everyone would love to go to war with the troops and leaders they wished they had, but that is in a perfect world. Get to know your troops, get to know your leaders and go win the war with what you are given.