There are three sides to every story
By Lt. Col. Donald Overbay, 354th Fighter Wing Inspector General
/ Published May 01, 2012
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- You know the old saying "there are two sides to every story?" I believe that saying is wrong. I think there are three sides to every story; what you think happened, what I think happened and what really happened -- the "truth." Our own perceptions of situations and what was said color our version of every story.
When I attended the Aircraft Mishap Investigation Course I was told that if I ever investigated an aircraft crash where there were several witnesses, half the witnesses would say that the aircraft was on fire before it crashed and half would say it wasn't. Half of the witnesses would say that it had engine trouble and half would say it sounded normal. Ironically, all the witnesses could be correct based on where they were during the event or their perspective.
Many of the Inspector General complaints we receive come down to an issue of perception; "my leadership doesn't like me," or "I told leadership about the problem and they didn't do anything about it." While on occasion both statements may be true, most of the time disciplinary actions are not motivated by like or dislike, but are based on an individual's actions. Often times commanders resolve problems quickly, but the actions are not necessarily communicated to the person that identified the issue.
One of the functions of the office of the IG to is to clear up misperceptions in a unit. When we have someone file a complaint because they feel leadership hasn't adequately resolved an issue, we discover that often the problem was dealt with by leadership but the individual was not aware, or the "problem" developed from what someone thought they heard.
Active leadership seeks feedback. It's one of the best ways to identify problems in an organization and to find opportunities to improve processes. It is also important to remember communication is both vertical and horizontal. It flows up and down and side to side. If you are good at getting your message out, the members of the organization will help spread the word. Does the newest Airman in your unit know what the unit's goals and objectives are? Do they know how their job contributes to the unit and wing mission? If not how do they know if they are making a difference? These are things that have to be communicated if a unit is to succeed.
The bottom line I'm driving at is that communication, both the giving and receiving, is critical to a unit's smooth operations. For supervisors this means providing timely and accurate feedback, not just the required feedback during the rating period. When performance problems exist they must be dealt with immediately. When you see exceptional performance let the person know that they are doing great work and pass the information on to their supervisor or commander.
For individuals, keep your leadership informed so small issues don't compound to the point they force disciplinary action for resolution. No one likes to get bad news. This includes commanders, first sergeants and supervisors. Get them in the loop early when you have a problem either personally or in the workplace. They have a lot of resources to draw on to help you fix the issue.