How Supervising a Small Group Prepares You for the Big Stage | Learning to Lead

Bad supervisors are everywhere. Some know they’re bad and don’t care. Some are clueless. But most desperately want to do better.small group 2528391784_86bfb5b6c9_m

Most of us don’t want to go to work and be known for doing a poor job. Too often, new supervisors were great technical performers inexperienced in how to lead others. Once they’re in the job, they discover that their success is measured by how well others perform under their direction.

That’s when many panic and make a mess of things by:

  • Micromanaging
  • Holing up in their offices
  • Giving orders and shunning feedback
  • Withholding information
  • Clinging to confidants

New supervisors often feel self-conscious, uncertain, and/or afraid because they really don’t know what to do. So they muddle along, maybe even reading a how-to-supervise book or taking a training course. But often, it may be too little too late.

Start small.

The best thing that can happen to a new supervisor is being assigned responsibility for a  small group.

It can be as small as one (although smart companies stay away from one-on-one or even two-on-one reporting). Three employees, in my view, would be the perfect start.

Why is that? Because it requires the new supervisor to deal with a triangle. (No love triangles, please.) Three employees promise enough work style, personality, and performance challenges to deal with like:

  • Balancing work load
  • Dealing with attitude differences
  • Engaging them as a team
  • Communicating clearly and effectively
  • Implementing policies and procedures fairly
  • Addressing unwanted behaviors
  • Setting boundaries
  • Evaluating and rewarding performance

In a small work group, the margin for supervisory error is small. That means if you botch a decision or an action, it quickly reverberates among all employees who will react in ways that you will have to contend with in order to restore the balance.

Lead like it’s big.

Small work groups can make a big difference no matter the size of the company.

That means you need to supervise three as though they were thirty. This isn’t a club you’re in charge of; it’s a business unit representing a significant investment in salary and benefits. The group is expected to contribute output that directly or indirectly impacts profitability.

So take charge of the expectations management has of your group. Approach your three professionally, so they see themselves as significant and you as their means to success.

Effective small group supervisors do exactly what successful corporate executives do. They lead.

As soon as you become the supervisor, assemble your group and communicate:

  • What the group is there to do (what business you are all in together)
  • Your style of supervision (meeting frequency, information needs, hot buttons)
  • Direction for the next year plus perspectives about the future
  • SMART performance goals for the group (Then set up meetings to establish their individual performance goals for the year.)
  • The kind of operating culture you desire (teamwork, cross-training, informal and formal communication, integrity, general conduct)

Your small work group is your training ground. If you aren’t comfortable taking this approach with three people, imagine how overwhelming it would be with three times as many or more.

(By the way, you can also get supervisor-like experience by being a team leader too.)

Positioning yourself for more

Great supervisors get great results. When your small group produces more and better work with you at the helm, you will be noticed and so will your employees.

Great supervisors are a rarity. Employees who have them sing their praises. They want you to succeed because when you do, they do too.

Employees know that the buck stops with you and you’ll need to make decisions along the way that they won’t like. They’ll respect you for that even though they might gripe.

By learning to lead in a small group situation, you position yourself for roles with broader scope, more employees, and a position on the organizational pyramid that will make you and your early employee team very proud.

Photo from whidbychick via Flickr

7 thoughts on “How Supervising a Small Group Prepares You for the Big Stage | Learning to Lead

    • Tracey, Many many thanks for the atta girl. I was lucky to start out with a small group that I was able to build. At least that gave me good sea legs. Even so, I was also thrown into the frothing ocean of big scope leadership and was saved from the Leviathan because of that early preparation. You are so right about the little things getting us ready for the big. Your comment was greatly appreciated! ~Dawn

Leave a Reply