The first “What Next Leader,” scenario-based professional development for Air Force Materiel Command’s mid-level supervisors was held Jan. 16. This professional development gives supervisors a chance to explore an uncommon workplace situation under the watchful eye of a panel of experts. (U.S. Air Force photo/R.J. Oriez)

Scenario-based training prepared AFMC managers for the unexpected

Supervisor training is the traditional first step to helping a person learn the skills he or she needs to effectively lead and manage teams. Sometimes this training is not enough to prepare him or her for unique situations that arise on the job.

The first “What Next Leader,” scenario-based professional development for Air Force Materiel Command’s mid-level supervisors was held Jan. 16.

This professional development gives supervisors a chance to explore an uncommon workplace situation under the watchful eye of a panel of experts. For many, the discussion topic was new and not part of their initial training for a supervisory position.

“These are areas that are not really covered or have not been dealt with during a supervisor’s career. Critical blanks exist when we are not sure of what should be done or who we can reach out to when challenging questions come up,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jennifer Hellwig, AFMC functional manager and course lead. “This professional experience can bridge that.”

The initial lunchtime session showcased a scenario focused on how a supervisor might answer questions posed by an Airman interested in starting the process of gender transformation.

The scenario was introduced to the group in phases, with information released periodically to prompt the group response. Questions were asked, prefaced by ‘What would you do?’ and followed by discussion by participating supervisors.

“We have Airman Leadership School and Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, but we don’t offer opportunities where you can get the real shock factor of ‘how are you going to respond or what are you going to do,’” said Jennifer Walden, AFMC Communication & Coordination Center superintendent and co-lead for the course. “This is a great opportunity because of the unique construct here of military and civilian Airmen.

“We work with the subject matter experts to know what they can do for us when people come to us with these issues,” Walden said.

A panel of SMEs provided professional support from areas relating to the scenario. For example, questions related to medical issues were addressed by members of the AFMC headquarters and 88th Air Base Wing medical teams, while legal questions were fielded by experts from the AFMC legal office.

The panel’s diversity SME tutored the group on the essential “people” perspective and the importance of all Airmen as members of the Air Force team.

“No one has total awareness. We have to count on our experts and those who have experience in different areas to help us develop critical thinking and remove the fear of providing incorrect information,” said Hellwig.

Over the course of the training, individual perspectives were broadened, with the interjection of the experiences of different team leaders, directors and project officers. Some participants expressed experiences from their past, which were valuable learning tools for others in the group, but they also acknowledged that such experiences were not generated on a frequent enough basis to develop the knowledge required to make fast decisions during critical situations.

“People get strategic training but not a lot get people skill development,” said Hellwig.

Scenarios mirror those given to enlisted leaders during first sergeant and senior non-commissioned officer education and are taken from things that have happened in the Air Force to provide authenticity to the process. During the class session, supervisors were able to develop confidence to handle challenging situations before emergencies arise.

While the AFMC class is still in early stages of implementation, strong engagement and participation will serve as the impetus to continue the course as an option for AFMC supervisors.

Though topics are kept secret until the day of the class, some potential future scenarios might include domestic issues, diversity situations or workplace violence.

What’s assured is that topics will be pertinent to the professional development of AFMC’s supervisors and the challenges they might face moving forward.