5 Supervisor Mistakes That Can Breed Employee Backlash

Supervision is a game of chance. Winning or losing often depends on how you treat your employees. Are you:Back to the Drawing Board

  • Fair or double-dealing
  • Honest or hypocritical
  • Aware or clueless
  • Self-serving or an advocate

Attract too many negative labels and you may breed employee backlash–often the death knell of a supervisor’s career.

Emerging signs  

Managing the range of employee expectations is a daunting challenge. Supervisors who tune out employees will soon find themselves dealing with unwanted and unexpected behavior.

Suddenly, some or all employees:

  • Stop giving input at meetings
  • Grumble consistently about assignments
  • Become de-energized and less productive
  • Challenge policies
  • Complain to others about you
  • Resist your direction, overtly or covertly

You know the situation is serious when you observe these signs in your best employees.

Supervisors often unknowingly generate backlash when they see their management style through their lens only. A supervisor’s job is a juggling act. Upper management, customers, and suppliers often create an engulfing noise can make a supervisor deaf to the voices and needs of their employees.

Sadly, there are also many supervisors who, for some reason, are uneasy with their own employees. When that’s the case, they tend to go into hiding, in a sense.  They may stay in their offices, quote policy instead of owning their decisions, and/or take inflexible positions on the way work is done.

Communicate without fear.

Supervisors make their own trouble with employees when they don’t communicate what they do and why.

Many feel that if they say the wrong thing, they’ll get themselves cornered with employees down the road. But saying nothing only plants the seed for future conflict and backlash.

Here are six typical mistakes that supervisors make and how to avoid them:

  1. Making a knee-jerk decision. Just because an employee wants an immediate decision doesn’t mean that you must give one, especially when you have several implications to consider. Instead, say that you want to give the request more thought with a decision forthcoming at a specific time. Then make sure you deliver it.
  2. Taking a defensive position when challenged. Employees who question your decisions give you an opportunity to educate them about the needs and direction of the business. Your logic and insights help to expand theirs. If their questions cause you to rethink your position, then they’ve done you a favor and have created a special professional bond.
  3. Being dismissive about employee input–Your employees are your team; they make or break your ability to succeed as a supervisor. Treating their input as insignificant builds a wall that can create animosity. Employee input is gold. It helps you understand expectations that you need to manage and can provide ideas that can lead to important improvements that everyone benefits from.
  4. Avoiding face-to-face conversation–There is nothing more alienating to employees than a supervisor who is invisible, distant, and unapproachable. When employees feel disconnected from their bosses, their loyalty bond is likely to be weak. Supervisors need to be real by being present, eyeball-to-eyeball–not text-to-text.
  5. Continuously quoting policies and procedures–Supervisors need to own their decisions to engender respect. Too many supervisors don’t want to make decisions that they may need to defend, so they quote a policy instead Policies and procedures set foundations and parameters but they aren’t recipes. Supervisors need to apply policies in ways that meet their intent. Employees expect you to take actions that deliver the right results in ways that support them..

Be there.

Being upfront puts supervisors in a position to create respect and confidence in employees. No employee believes that their boss will be right all the time. They just need to feel connected.

Supervisors who communicate with their employees, who are honest about what they do and don’t know, and who can be trusted to do what they say, will create the kind of relationship employees need–one that will hold up in good times and rough ones.

Photo from gever tulley via Flickr

Still Searching for Self-Confidence? Try Looking Outward.

Self-confidence is both deal-maker and deal-breaker. Just look around. You’ll see:

  • Enormously talented people with low self-confidence who never made it
  • Bumblers with over-flowing self-confidence who succeed beyond belief

When we doubt, question, and criticize our abilities, we self-sabotage. The more negative feedback we give ourselves, the more we believe it must be true.

We says things like:

  • “Since I don’t have an MBA, my ideas will never be heard.”
  • “I couldn’t possibly be considered for a supervisory job without formal training.”
  • “No one will hire me since I’ve been out of work so long.”
  • “Introverts like me can’t become successful speakers.”

It’s time to reboot.

Reprogram your head.

Low self-confidence can be physically painful. When those feelings start to set in, they disturb the way we feel and how we behave.

That means we need to take steps to minimize the chance that our shaky self-confidence will rear its ugly head.

Although it’s never too late, it’s helpful when we learn how to do this when we’re young.

Meet Sophia Grace (now age 9) and  Rosie (6). They are cousins from England who were discovered by Ellen DeGeneres who saw their YouTube video singing rapper Nicki Minaj’s song, Super Bass.

The two girls have become an international sensation because of their repeated appearances on the Ellen show, their captivating personalities (Sophia Grace’s singing talent and exuberance; Rosie’s adorable look and understated manner), their love of pink tutus, and their wide-eyed innocence.

The Super Bass lyrics (which, fortunately, they admit they don’t understand) are enormously complicated but took them only two days to learn. Sophia Grace does the singing and Rosie mostly mouths the words.

During one of their interviews with Ellen, the outgoing Sophia Grace was asked about her relationship on stage with Rosie. She answered:

“Rosie makes me feel more confident.”

When the girls were treated on Ellen to a surprise meeting with their idol Nicki Minaj, Nicki lauded Sophia Grace’s singing and praised Rosie as being her “hype” girl.

Together Sophia Grace and Rosie are a true team.

The formula

The foundation for self-confidence starts with:

  • Loving what you do and then doing it with great energy, enthusiasm, and commitment whether you are great at it or not. (Greatness will come eventually if you want it enough.)
  • Feeling inspired to press on to keep getting better
  • Support from others–friends, family, mentors, bosses, anyone
  • Courage to take chances, reach out, and ask for the support you need

Here’s how the steps in the formula worked for the little girls in pink:

  • Sophia Grace and Rosie started with the joy of singing together.
  • They were inspired by their singing idol and learned that complex song.
  • They had supportive parents who made and posted the YouTube video and they had each other.
  • They took advantage of the chance to go to the Ellen show and all the experiences that followed.

There are examples like this everywhere. Listen to those contestants on the TV show, The Voice, who, when asked by judges like Cee Lo Green, what kind of help they’re looking for from a coach, the answer from many is: “My self-confidence isn’t the best.”

Listen to interviews with athletes who struggle to break through to the next level, and they will talk about “not believing” in themselves and “struggling with self-confidence” in the big matches or games.

Take charge

It doesn’t matter how accomplished we are, self-confidence is always the deal-maker or deal- breaker going forward.

So what are you going to do to break through the barriers of your own self-confidence to:

  • Perform better
  • Expand your capabilities
  • Build a stronger personal brand
  • Achieve that promotion or new job

You need to surround yourself with the right people who will provide the encouragement, insights, knowledge, and feedback you need to sustain positive self-confidence along the way. Then you need to keep working and striving.

We’re not expected to succeed alone. Actually, I don’t think we can.  It’s essential to reach out.

Photo from Ariana fan via Flickr

Failure–Who Needs It? | You Do

We just don’t like it. We often fear it, dread it, struggle to avoid it, and sometimes succumb to it. Failure tests us. It makes us face up to what we’re made of.

Failure and fear are ominous bedfellows. They feed each other and us too in ways that can be crushing.

Embracing failure

If we want to succeed, we need to welcome failure. It’s our greatest teacher.

If it weren’t, we wouldn’t remember our failures more keenly than our successes.

Our failures have a habit of sticking, and because they do, they become the essential reference point that we need to grasp.

Failures in our careers come in all shapes and sizes:

  • the blown interview
  • unmet performance goals
  • a failed project, product, or software application
  • an ineffective presentation or rejected proposal
  • job loss or business failure

Faced with any of these, you might choose to:

  • give up, become inconsolably disgruntled or retaliatory
  • blame others, the company, or some policy
  • berate yourself, lose all confidence, or backslide

But, if you’re smart, you’ll stop and say, “I need to figure out what I need to do to get better, so I can avoid failures like this in the future.”

Tune in

No matter how great they are, professional athletes continuously experience failure. Every contest does not end up in a win and they know it.

Pro baseball players fail at bat more than they succeed. Pro golfers can compete for years and never win a tournament. (They may get a paycheck, but their ultimate measure of success is wins.)

As a result, athletes use every failure to learn something about themselves, ways to improve their skills, and insights to sharpen their game sense.

Lolo Jones is an American track and field athlete. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she was favored to win the 100 meter hurdles, but she tripped on the second to last hurdle, finishing seventh. It was a crushing failure for a competitor who had overcome a life of poverty through hard work and determination to reach such a pinnacle moment.

Lolo is competing in the 2012 Olympics in London where she will pursue gold in the same race. After four years learning from  her 2008 failure, she sees that by fighting her way back to the Olympics, she has already won. She said on NBC’s Today Show (8/7/12), “For me, it will be like facing my fears.” Facing them means she has already overcome that old failure.

Kerri Strug, retired American gymnast and member of the Magnificent Seven gold medal team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, is famous for her performance on the vault to win the all-around, despite having severely injured her ankle. Early on, as a gymnast, she was considered mentally and emotionally frail in her performances during times of competitive stress. So with everything on the line in 1996, Kerri demonstrated what she has now come to realize: “It’s your failures that catapult you forward” (from a 2012 interview on NBC).

Exploit your failures

It’s time to take hold of your failures and exploit them for your own success. Face them. Embrace them. That’s how you will free yourself from the hold they may have on you and turn them into an asset.

Make those failures clear by writing them down. State what you see as the failure and make sure you’ve got it right. Then start listing what the failure has taught you about:

  • your skills and knowledge
  • your attitude, point of view, understanding of the situation
  • your commitment, standards, work ethic, courage
  • confidence, relationships, honesty

Then write an action plan for yourself. What are you going to do to be better prepared to minimize the chances of failure next time. Find someone you trust to help you. Then get on with it. The only one who can overcome failure is you. So please make failure your friend!

Photo from nataliebehring.com via Flicker

Want to Make It? Then Believe You Will…Without a Doubt.

“Why not me?” That’s the nagging question we often ask ourselves after we fail to:

David Ferrer

  • Get that promotion
  • Receive recognition or reward for our contributions
  • Land the job we wanted

Whether we’re an individual contributor, supervisor, manager, or executive, there will always be some career goal that keeps eluding us. So what’s the answer?

Know how to compete.

“Making it” is about competing. You want to progress in your career, and so do most of the people working with you. That means those coworkers are also attempting to stand out and showcase their value.

Unlike in sports, we don’t find ourselves pitted against each other in a specific contest each day, but we are continuously being compared to one  another by our supervisors and managers.

They assess our:

  • knowledge, skills, and experience
  • desire, motivation, and reliability
  • work ethic and integrity
  • ability to collaborate, engage others, and lead
  • mental toughness and focus in the face of adversity

We  compete, every day, by demonstrating our ability to get desired results. The more significant our contributions, the more value the company will assign to us.

Sadly, this isn’t always enough to “make it” in our terms.

Believe you will.

You aren’t the only one putting together your portfolio of value attributes. Others are doing it too.

Remember: You are all performing as best you can, differentiating yourselves, building relationships, and getting ready for that next big step.

You increase your chances of making that step when you really believe you will.

We all tell ourselves that we want to, are ready to, are prepared to, have worked to, and are entitled to that step. But that’s not the same as believing we will…with no doubt, no second-guessing, no probably. We must believe we WILL.

David Ferrer is a Spanish professional tennis player, currently World No. 5 in the ATP Rankings. He turned professional in 2000 and is known as a clay-court specialist, although he has also had success on hard courts.

He routinely faces current tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer who have amassed numerous championship titles. They routinely beat Ferrer and are almost always between him and a championship title.

The fact is that Ferrer has all the skills and desire to win:

Ferrer is noted for being one of the more dogged, agile and fit players on the tour… Ferrer has won many matches through consistent baseline play along with great fitness, footspeed and determination. Although he does not possess powerful  groundstrokes like many of his contemporaries, his ability to keep the ball deep in play has allowed him to be successful on all surfaces, especially on clay and hard courts… Roger Federer regards Ferrer as the best returner in the men’s game.

So what’s the obstacle for Ferrer?

While I was watching the 2012 Internazionali BNL d’Italia tournament where Ferrer faced Nadal in the semi-final, one of the TV commentators offered his opinion that, as good as Ferrer was, it appeared he simply didn’t believe he could beat his higher ranked rivals.

Who can say for sure if that’s true for Ferrer, but what about in your case?

Do you believe?

So we come to another question…one only you can answer. It takes something deep inside to get us to really believe we can achieve our personal career goals. That believing is a mental discipline that we form through:

  • Constructive feedback consistently internalized from people we trust and respect
  • Absorbing the confidence shown by others–our fans, our supporters, our friends/family
  • Committing to prove something to ourselves
  • Wanting to share success with those who are invested in us and/or for a  cause
  • Realizing that our time will come, so we must remain ready

There is no predicting when we will move from where we are to really believing in ourselves and our ability to secure our brass ring. We need to teach ourselves to deny self-doubt any place in our thinking and replace it with the belief that, through our continued hard work and diligence, we will make it. You gotta believe, okay?

Photo from beelde.com via Flickr

Help Giver or Help Seeker? Let Gratitude Fuel the Ride

I’ve always been at odds with the adage: “Good guys (and gals) always finish last.” It implies that being a team player, going the extra mile, or helping coworkers is a negative career strategy.

Often we’re warned that if we’re too generous with our time and talents at work, we’ll get taken advantage of. Well, maybe, but it’s worth the risk.

Most of us lend a hand because we:

  • Can’t help ourselves; it’s how we’re wired, raised, or compelled
  • Can put our knowledge and skills to good use
  • Care about the person or group in need
  • Enjoy collaborating, teamwork, and a new challenge

Our initial desire to help doesn’t usually consider the downside. We step up because it feels good.

The double-edged sword

Helping goes two ways: we give it one day and need it the next. We may go for long periods without needing help, but we’re pretty sure our time will come.

I’m as guilty as the next for resisting offers of help for reasons like:

  • I don’t want to be a bother
  • My need isn’t that important
  • I think I can take care of it myself (when I really can’t)
  • I’ll wait for something “really big” down the road

So I refrain from asking when I should, even when others are offering help.

At the same time, I’m eager to help someone else. I love nothing more than frantic phone calls from friends and clients who have some new craziness at work to figure out. This gives me a chance to provide help as a gift, my act of gratitude for their confidence and friendship.

Counted on or counted out

To help and be helped bind us. At work we need each other to:

  • Get the work done
  • Avoid being blindsided
  • Build our knowledge and skills
  • Create and innovate

We need coworkers we can count on and they need us too.

The other day I was thinking about the “helpers-in-waiting” in my life. These are the professionals I can call anytime with a question or a problem–special people who know who I am and care sincerely about helping me like my attorney, my accountant, my computer specialist, my personal physician, and my large and small animal veterinarians.

These aren’t people I talk to every day or month or year, but when I need them, I really do and  pronto. They don’t have to drop everything when I call, but most of the time they do. That raises my gratitude level and they know it.

A help-seeker’s gratitude expands when the help giver:

  • Acknowledges the need and responds quickly
  • Does a thorough job done and gives sound advice
  • Is fair and trustworthy
  • Communicates information and answers questions clearly
  • Takes a warm, pleasant approach and even shows a sense of humor

The help-giver’s gratitude comes from the help seeker’s:

In a business environment, no one is obligated to provide selfless help just because someone is paying for services. I know plenty of highly paid individuals who don’t provide help that generates gratitude. In too many cases, their help creates resentment.

Be kind, be helpful

In my view, the good guys and gals finish first. They attract a community of like-minded people who help because they want to, promoting a spirit of gratitude that is contagious.

Each day we need to reach out to others while expressing thanks to those helping us, in even the smallest ways. Recognize helpfulness in an email, a voice mail, a word in passing, a greeting card, an invitation to lunch, a “how are you doing” inquiry, or an offer of support. Gratitude costs nothing and makes a big difference.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and other post posts here. Believe me, I am enormously grateful for your interest, your comments, and your support.

Photo from smiles 7 via Flickr

Leading Employees Who Don’t See Things Your Way | Handling Disagreement

Leadership is no cakewalk. It takes guts, resilience, clear-headedness, and sensitivity. Okay, it takes lots more too. But the real challenge for leaders is their employees. 

Each one has their own set of expectations. They want their leader to create a work environment that suits them by solving problems, removing obstacles, resolving conflicts, ensuring fairness, and minimizing disruptions. 

The harsh reality is: Every employee can’t have exactly what s/he wants. 

Disagreement triggers 

Like it or not, business needs trump employee wants. That can be hard to swallow if employees don’t understand the big picture their leaders see.  After all, a leader’s first responsibility is to keep the business going so we can keep our jobs. 

Savvy leaders anticipate decisions that trigger employee disagreement and are quick to defuse it. 

There are all kinds of causes for those disagreements: 

  • Someone else was promoted and they don’t understand why.
  • A work process was changed without their input.
  • Work was outsourced, threatening their job security. 

Even though, you, as the leader, didn’t necessarily create these situations, you are expected to own them. Remember: you are the company’s agent even while you’re an employee in your own right. (Hey, no one said this role was easy!) 

Leaders need to identify signs of employee disagreement before they become flashpoints by being alert to: 

  • Non-verbals: No eye contact, silence, avoidance, negative body language
  • Verbal barbs: “I don’t think that’s fair” or “That’s not my job”
  • Actions: Work slow-downs, huddled groups venting, non-compliance 

Resistance to new policies/processes, reorganizations, or increased performance expectations notoriously starts small and then takes on a life of its own. 

It’s tempting to ignore what might appear to be trivial employee disagreements. But they provide value insights that every leader needs to take seriously and reposition. 

When employees don’t see things your way, they act in either an overt or covert way. Some employees will be upfront and open about their disagreements; others will lie low and stoke the disenchantment of others. The leader needs to understand the root cause of these disagreements and tackle them head on. 

Defusing pushback 

Leaders tend to look at disagreements as pushback against their authority, which often isn’t the case. Too often, they are tempted to push back harder, using their organizational clout to make sure employees keep doing things “their” way. That only works for a short while and often makes matters worse.  

There’s real risk in failing to address employee disagreements like: 

  • Declining morale and motivation
  • Reduction in productivity and quality
  • Inability to enact change successfully 

Leaders of all stripes need to moderate employee disagreements, resolve legitimate issues, build understanding, and keep lines of communication open. 

When employees disagree, they want to be heard. Sometimes this is all they need, an opportunity to go on record with their point of view. Other times, it’s the starting point for ongoing dialogue, helping the employee and the leader to resolve the disagreement. 

Here are basic steps for conversations with employees who don’t see things the leader’s way: 

  • Understand the employee’s issue and its source
  • Ask what the employee wants changed
  • Be clear about your position and what you are able to give (if anything)
  • Be prepared to explain your/the company’s rationale in words the employee will understand
  • Confront the employee about their resistance (if any), its impacts and consequences
  • Summarize what’s been discussed and state the next steps each will take 

The leader is not always right and the employee wrong. Effective leaders get important insights when employees disagree. 

Take the high road 

Disagreements are important for business growth; they constitute feedback. It’s the way disagreements are handled that separates great leaders from mediocre ones. 

Opening yourself to employee viewpoints and inviting them is key. Not every point of employee disagreement is valid or doable, but each should be heard and considered. 

Photo from stuant63 via Flickr

Can You Handle the Heat? A Mental Toughness Test

Pressure tests our self-confidence and mental discipline.

Life is good on the job when predictable conditions give us a clear path for showcasing our talents. That’s when we’re convinced we have what it takes for our next step.

Unfortunately, the unpredictable is also predicable. Are you ready for it? Do you know how you’ll handle the heat?

Rings of fire 

No job is immune from surprises that test you. On any day and at any time, things can go up in smoke and your job will be to find your way through the flames.

Disruption emerges from:

  • Your boss and coworkers
  • Customers, clients, and vendors
  • Performance reports and financials
  • Software glitches and system failures
  • Policy and procedure errors
  • Communications breakdowns and stymied negotiations
  • New regulation and legal decisions
  • Marketplace competition and under-performing products

We can either crumble or rise to the occasion when things go wrong. In either case, everyone will be watching.

Gut it out 

Great models for developing mental toughness are athletes in individual sports, like golf and tennis. It’s always the player against the opponent and the conditions. To succeed, one will contend with adversity better than the other.

These athletes live by routines which become a kind of rhythm of play. It’s how they tap into muscle memory and keep their visualization patterns humming.

Golfers and tennis players are frequently disrupted by:

  • Weather delays, causing them to stop, wait, and restart
  • Crowd noise during play or reactions unsupportive of them
  • Persistent or sudden injuries
  • Excessive heat, cold, wind, or rain
  • Disrespect or gamesmanship from their opponents

There are hundreds of examples where certain athletes blow leads, implode, or even retire from play because disruptions overcome them.

Our mind can either weaken or strengthen us during adversity. We just need to know which one we want it to be when it’s our time to be challenged.

Assess your mental toughness 

When the heat’s on, how do you react? If you answer “yes” to any of the following, consider taking the next steps in parens.

  1. “I get stressed out and lose concentration when I’m told my project is due by noon instead of the end of the workday.” (Clear out all other distractions, defer other tasks, avoid interruptions, and focus only on the project.)
  2. “When my boss gives me negative feedback, I lose motivation.” (Think about the contributing factors in the feedback; develop and implement a plan to change what you’ve been doing.)
  3. “When I’m accountable for a team result, I micro-manage to avoid things going wrong.” (Stay away from the details, refocus on the big picture, provide support and cheerlead.)
  4. “In a conflict situation, I usually back off.” (Ask questions to understand the issue; request time to think about what you’ve heard; come to terms with your position; and set a time to meet again to resolve.)
  5. “If I make a mistake, I’m reluctant to try again.” (Learn from each mistake and commit to trying again as soon as possible. Ask for feedback. Work at the fix until you’ve mastered it.)
  6. “When a problem arises, I wait for a coworker or my boss to take the lead.” (Commit to taking the reins, especially when you have the expertise.)
  7. “If I get a poor rating on a performance factor, it takes me weeks to get over it.” (Reset your performance goal for that factor to meet expectations. Commit to immediate actions to turn the rating around.) 

Action is the marker 

Mental toughness is the outgrowth of committed action. It demonstrates your willingness to keep pressing forward, drawing on your capabilities, and being averse to quitting no matter how difficult the challenge.

You have to act to build and increase mental toughness. Each step you take increases your self-confidence and your business fitness.

Mental toughness builds on itself but it takes your efforts to get the ball rolling. Once you do, everyone will take notice and your career will benefit.

Photo from Ben Sutherland via Flickr