“You’ll find I’m a storyteller,” Marion Whicker told a small group of new supervisors during a leader professional development seminar at the Aviation and Missile Command headquarters on Redstone Arsenal May 11.
And story tell she did. Whicker, who serves as the Executive Deputy to the Commanding General at Army Materiel Command, used personal examples from throughout her 38-year career to underscore the importance of being a good supervisor. She said that means knowing about your employees’ lives outside of work — their goals and aspirations, when babies are due, when soccer games are played, etc.
“A good supervisor should know their employees,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you know every little detail about them, but you should get to know them. Get to know their strengths and weaknesses, and to the extent that they want to share, get to know their family situation and dynamic, because the more we know and share with each other, the better we become as supervisors.”
Whicker said she tries to visit AMC major subordinate commands monthly, and talking to supervisors is “the best part” of her job.
“It’s important for me to talk to them because they are our first face to the employees,” she said. “Helping their growth and maturation is important. I don’t think we do that enough.”
Whicker also talked about the negative connotation often associated with being a supervisor and how she wants to change that narrative.
“We don’t talk about the good things involved with supervision,” she said. “How you get cool opportunities and how you get to mold and build the next generation of the workforce. Supervision is one of the greatest jobs we get to do and make no mistake about how much you influence people. You matter now, and you matter when it comes to the development of the next generation.”
Whicker answered questions from the audience about team building, strategies for handling difficult employees and her experience working with Operation Warp Speed during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also asked some questions.
She asked about the toughest challenges the group had encountered as supervisors and how they overcame them. She also put AMCOM Deputy to the Commanding General Don Nitti on the spot and asked him about the difference between leading Soldiers and leading civilians.
Nitti told the group that while leadership is leadership, one of the biggest differences is training. He said in the military, you are always training for the next level and the next job, but that is not always the case in the civilian workforce.
“That is one of the reasons we stood up this supervisor development training cohort — to try and close that gap and ensure supervisors have the tools and resources they need upfront to help them and the organization be successful,” he said.
Whicker said during a previous professional development seminar, someone asked her what she would tell her GS-5 self.
She flipped that question to the AMCOM group and said, “What would you, as your entry-grade, tell yourself as a supervisor today? What’s the one thing you wish you could have told your supervisor back at that grade?”
In her case, Whicker said she would say, “Help me chart out my career because a lot of supervisors don’t do that, and I didn’t ask it back then. So, think about what your question is, talk to your people and help them with that discussion. The more we can reflect and figure out what’s on the minds of our employees, the better supervisors we’ll be.”