Supervising doesn’t seem that hard. It sure didn’t to me at first.
I never set out to become a supervisor, but I always paid attention to the supervisors I had, particularly what I did and didn’t like about the way they treated me.
I figured that, given the chance to supervise, I’d just imitate the good and exclude the bad stuff. How simplistic was that?
Ah, the memories
I can recite with ease every boss who helped me improve my skills, build confidence, and prepare myself for the next, usually bigger, career step.
I also remember the duds vividly. If I were to sketch a cartoon version them, you’d see a clown, a sexist, a scaredy-cat who kept a log of his pocket change (Don’t ask!), a stuffed shirt, and an empty suit. Funny, isn’t it, how those ineffective supervisors live forever as caricatures and the great ones as idols.
You can probably make your own list of loser supervisors pretty easily too. You may still be working for him or her. The most important thing is not to become one.
That’s why I’m writing this series.
Embracing the gig
Supervision is an endless initiation, a testing ground for your ability and courage to own it as your profession.
If you’re lucky, you’re chosen to supervise work you know something about with good performing employees. Hardly anyone is that lucky.
Good supervisors learn, in short order, that their effectiveness hinges on how they connect with their direct reports. That includes demonstrating humility, sensitivity, awareness, firmness, consistency, and courage, delivered predictably and sincerely.
Good supervisors help their employees get better.
The big revelation
Supervisory success comes down to [drum roll] actually supervising. Not pretending to supervise. Not over- or under-supervising. Not supervising some people and not others. And not giving up on it.
I wouldn’t write this, if I hadn’t seen it all (even done some of it) and the havoc not supervising creates.
Look at your list of awful supervisors, and you’ll see what they generally had in common: The inability to deal effectively with you and others around you.
Since employees do the work, good supervising is about delivering the support employees need to do it well. Employees don’t get the right work done just because there’s a goal, a productivity report, or an assignment made and checked on by the supervisor. They get it done because the supervisor figures out what’s in the way and removes it.
You don’t have to be called a supervisor to be one. Anytime you have a direct report, you’re a supervisor. You might have the title of manager, director, project leader, or even vice president. In every case, you have to supervise real people, so they can get the work done without imploding, rebelling, subverting, or hurting their careers, the business, and your professional brand too.
I spent over twenty years at a Fortune 500 electric utility company supervising both small staffs and large, multifunctional groups. I’ve supervised all kinds of employees in diverse functions, doing challenging, stressful, and important work against demanding timetables and performance goals.
Those employees counted on my direct or indirect supervision for their job success and satisfaction. That’s a pretty heavy responsibility, in my book.
How well you supervise underpins your career legacy.
I’ve repeatedly asked myself: “Why are so many supervisors poor or mediocre at best?”
Here’s my best answer:
Supervisors are often uncomfortable, even intimidated, supervising their employees. Why? Because people are unpredictable. They come to work with attitudes and expectations unique to them that need to be addressed.
People are a supervisor’s biggest challenge because, quite simply, they aren’t the same. They aren’t programmable, automated, or mechanized. They can’t be predicted with precision–not their output, their emotional responses, reactions, or intentions.
Every supervisor needs each person to function at his or her best every day and the only way to ensure that is to provide supervision that works for them.
The big question is: “How do good supervisors do that?”
Episode #2 will start to answer that question. Please come back.