Fixing Your “Boss Problem” with Self-Supervision

“Sometimes you’re the windshield/Sometimes you’re the bug.” Remember that lyric from “The Bug”  by Mary Chapin Carpenter?

Well, it’s true at work too. Sometimes your boss is the problem and sometimes it’s also you.

Sizing up expectations

It’s pretty typical to make the boss the center of our job universe. We somehow expect the boss to be what we need him/her to be so we can succeed. When they fall short, we get frustrated.

In truth, although there are plenty of great bosses, there are many who:

  • Simply don’t, won’t or can’t supervise
  • Over-control or micro-manage
  • Misuse or abuse their authority
  • Can’t make a decision, waffle on or retract them
  • Pay no or too much attention to you

More often than not, employees with bosses like these start feeling like “the bug.”

We set ourselves up to becoming frustrated when we expect our bosses to:

  • Tell us what to do in our jobs and how
  • Care about our growth and provide opportunities
  • Put our ideas into practice
  • Communicate everything going on in the company
  • Adopt an interpersonal and/or leadership style that we like

The hard reality is that they are the boss. They don’t have make any changes just to accommodate us. However, we can do plenty to turn things around to our favor.

The art of self-supervising

To be successful in our jobs, we need to do things that makes our boss’s life easier which includes not having to be preoccupied with supervising us.

This means learning how to supervise yourself by looking at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it just, as your boss does.

Start by looking at how your job impacts your boss and the company. Then work each day to:

  • Deliver on the high priority output/impact goals in your job
  • Hold yourself accountable for results (no excuse-making)
  • Be a positive force when working with others (setting ego aside)
  • Make decisions/take actions that make sense all around
  • Show respect to the organization and its leaders
  • Follow procedures, processes, and policies (even when you might disagree)
  • Communicate with your boss routinely on your work activities; seek direction

If you conduct yourself as a self-managed employee, your boss will see you more as a colleague than a subordinate.

Remember: Your boss has his/her own boss to contend with (which may be no picnic) as well as the company’s performance expectations and the needs of their other employees.

Your boss wants employees who understand the needs of the business beyond just daily tasks. S/he doesn’t want to babysit employees and deal with a lot of nagging complaints. That’s a sign of ego-centeredness when what’s needed is collaborative teamwork.

Talk the talk as you walk the walk

When you self-supervise, you necessarily look at yourself at arm’s length. You’re taking a big picture view of your work and an objective snapshot of the way you’re going about it.

In some ways, self-supervision is like creating an out-of-body experience with you looking at yourself from a distanced vantage point.

The beauty of self-supervision is that it is actual supervision with you practicing on yourself. It also means you’re critiquing your work using the language of a supervisor.

It’s important that you meet routinely with your boss, so please get in the habit of scheduling time for that, proposing specific agenda of topics. (Keep the meeting to no more than 30 minutes.)

Talk about your activities and projects in terms of goals achieved, decisions made or anticipated, new ideas, and process improvements.

Give your boss to an opportunity to talk with you like a colleague. Help him/her realize that you understand the pressures s/he is under. Offer your support when needed.

Your boss can help or hinder your progress and you can do the same for him or her. A wise bug avoids the windshield. Let that be you.

Photo from Leonel Macias via Flickr

12 thoughts on “Fixing Your “Boss Problem” with Self-Supervision

  1. “A wise bug avoids the windshield.” love it.
    Your points are good ones.
    I’m also caught in a conundrum about the employee who doesn’t think s/he should have to self supervise or doesn’t know how while having a boss that doesn’t supervise. Any ideas?

    • Sorry to be so pokey about responding to your question, Cherry. In a perfect world, none of us should have to self-supervise, but the truth is that if we don’t we chose to put our career growth, performance ratings, and potentially our salary increases fully in the hands of our bosses. If we have a good boss we’re in luck; then self-supervising gives us a leg up because we’re making our boss’s job easier and more pleasant. If we have a weak boss, we minimize the degree to which we are under-served by him/her. In today’s business environment, we need to understand what supervision is about even if we don’t have the title. Then we need to position ourselves in ways that demonstrate our talents. Hope this helps, ~Dawn

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  3. It’s normal to expect your boss to do and be certain things. Unfortunately, you can only do so much in a situation where your boss simply isn’t stepping up. I’ve talked to someone who’s had a similar problem before, said she’s not getting enough respect and appreciation at work, and her boss doesn’t seem to care about the staff. While it is true that the boss seemed pretty apathetic to everyone, she was actually paying attention to how everyone else was working even without her involvement. It sounded like a strange management tactic, but the boss was able to identify which of her staff continued to do their jobs well..

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  7. Self Supervision will train you as future Manager. – Although by self supervising you will loose working time. Self supervision while you do your work. Prepare your working area – evaluate at the end of each shift what went wrong and learn from the experience.

    • Diana, Many thanks for your comment. I agree that the time we spend “self-supervising” should not interfere with our productivity. I really like your idea about evaluating how things went “at the end of each shift’ including “what went wrong and learn from the experience.” I’m a big fan of taking a “lessons learned” approach to all things at work, even debriefing meetings when things go both right and wrong. Best, ~Dawn

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