The Four-Eyed Supervisor: It’s All on Your Watch. | A Leadership Paradox

You either are a supervisor or likely have one.

Supervisor effectiveness boils down to what you think the job is or what you want it to be. In the end, performance under the supervisor’s leadership is what counts.

Facing the paradox

Supervisors are told that their job is to provide direction and oversee the successful completion of work by individual employees and the team. That means different things to different supervisors.

Some supervisors focus on the “provide direction” part which sounds important and grand. They spend their time on strategic direction, tracking goal progress, and analyzing measures around quality, customer satisfaction, output, and costs.

Their perspective often is: Just give employees their job descriptions, tools, and requirements, then expect them to deliver.

Then there are supervisors who mainly embrace the “oversee the work” expectation.  They’re all about requiring detailed and frequent status updates, identifying errors and  their makers, second-guessing decisions, and holding everyone’s feet to the fire. These supervisors see their jobs as checkers, controlling for any mistake that will compromise expectations.

The paradox is that, as leaders, supervisors need to embrace, in a healthy way, both the strategic (direction) and tactical (oversight) requirements of the job in equal measure.

Four eyes see more.

Effective supervisors see their work groups as small businesses within the larger company. They develop goals based on the company’s needs and the work output they’ve been assigned. In a blink, they become intrapreneurs, accountable for the way their internal business runs.

Every supervisor needs to understand what his/her work group must achieve, why it’s important, what it takes, what the risks and obstacles are, and the resources needed to be successful. The supervisor’s job is to make decisions and problem solve to achieve expectations.

Every supervisor needs to understand the engine of the work group. What are the processes, policies, and practices that need to be executed cleanly in order to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, quality, and safety? If the work group doesn’t hum, the output will be affected.

The bottom line is: Everything that takes place while you’re the supervisor is on your watch whether you’re watching it or not. That’s why cultivating a four-eyed approach to supervising is important.

Of course supervisors don’t have four eyes, even with glasses or contacts. But, with the two eyes they have, they need to double focus on all aspects of the work and the needs of their employees .

Eye catchers

Keeping your eyes on the right things makes supervising much easier and removes pitfalls that catch you on the wrong side of expectations. Consider these supervisor toolkit essentials to sharpen your focus:

  1. Big picture goals (direction)–statements that spell out in specific terms what your work group business is trying to achieve, written for employees doing the work not for business professors
  2. Process maps (oversight) –flow charts that follow the paths the work takes, including the hand-offs, so you can improve efficiency, figure out where errors occur, and find out where the ball is dropped and why.
  3. Performance measures (oversight)–metrics and observables that track progress, output, quality, customer satisfaction, and results, defining effectiveness and success
  4. Debriefs and Root Cause Analyses (oversight)–meetings with employees following events that fell short of expectations, led to accidents, or uncovered new issues; meetings that, without blame, attempt to figure out remedies to avoid repeats
  5. State of the Business Presentations (direction)–Periodic and timely high-level communications delivered in person by the supervisor that illustrate how the work group is performing against expectations; meetings that incorporate the information revealed by the first four items above and invite discussion.

Supervising matters

Anyone who supervises, no matter your title, owns the challenges that come with the role. To do it well, you need to do the whole job, but you have to see it first. Keeping your eyes on all the moving parts takes commitment and discipline. The payoff is well worth the effort.



Get What It Means to “Add Value”? Find Your Niche and Showcase It.

If you want to:value added 7656908818_75fecde8da_m

  • get that new job, then explain how you’ll add value
  • move up, then demonstrate how you’ll add value
  • get a better raise, then quantify how you’ve added value
  • keep your job, then showcase how you continue to add value

Sounds easy enough, right? Unless, of course, you don’t know what it means to add value where you work or how. Sadly, that’s a lot of employees.

You are money.                                                                                                

The concept of “value added” was first a business and economics term used in discussions around sale price, production cost, and profit formulas. Eventually it got defined as:

…extra feature(s) of an item of interest (product, service, person etc.) that go beyond the standard expectations and provide something ‘more’ while adding little or nothing to its cost. Value-added features give competitive edges to companies….

That’s where you, the employee, come in–adding value through talents and abilities unique to you. It’s how you demonstrate that what you do contributes to the success and profitability of the company.

Employees are a cost, often a big one, to a company. That means we need to produce work that contributes to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, we often don’t know or have a hard time seeing our connection with the company’s big picture. Our world is often just the task list and performance goals in front of us.

It doesn’t matter how far up or down you are on the company’s organization chart, you have to figure out and demonstrate what you do to add value. If you don’t, someone else may decided that you don’t add enough. The consequences follow.

It’s likely that you already add lots of value and either don’t see it or could add more.

Find your niche.

If you’re saying to yourself:

  • “I don’t do anything special at work. I just do my job.”
  • “I don’t have any unique talents or skills to offer.”

Please stop yourself. It’s time to adopt a new, more positive and generous self-view.

The value you add doesn’t have to  appear in lights. Small contributions can have significant impacts on the company, your work group, and your boss.

Finding your niche means looking at the skills and abilities you take pride in and then maximizing opportunities to brand yourself by them.

Your niche may be something like being known for:

  • Coming up with ways to make routine tasks more efficient
  • Boiling down a complicated issue into its key points
  • Writing meeting minutes that keep decisions in focus
  • Getting people at odds to talk with each other to resolve differences
  • Injecting a light comment or bit of humor to cut tension
  • Meeting deadlines, especially the tight ones
  • Catching errors, written and computational, by being detail-oriented
  • Defusing irate customers and preserving relationships
  • Reading between the lines to uncover the real issues
  • Anticipating the needs of others and preparing to meet them

It’s important to take the time to put together a 3-step value-added action plan:

  1. Write a clear statement that describe your niche (This can be a challenge when what you do comes automatically, so really commit to doing this.)
  2. Identify the real business value that results, creating a clear, strong context
  3. Take advantage of all opportunities to put your value-added behavior to work

On the surface you may not think that what you do has business value, but it does. Think about all the time and money saved each time work is done without interruption, colleagues work together without strain, and customers remain loyal. Consider what it means when work is accurate, quality high, and communication clear.

That’s what makes organizations successful. It’s what helps your career.

Don’t  be shy.

Your value added emerges from your knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors on the job. You want your employer to look at you and feel gratified that you work there. When you add value, employers don’t want to see you go and wish what you do would rub off on others.

Your value needs to be seen routinely to be appreciated. So please don’t be shy about showcasing it.

Photo from memories-in-motion via Flickr

Craving the Secret to Success? Words from the Wise Break the Code | Howard’s Gift

I’m on a constant quest for answers to big questions about the direction of my life and my work. When I was asked to blog about Eric C. Sinoway’s new book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work, I hesitated. I didn’t know anything about Howard Stevenson, the focus of the book. But I said “yes” anyway. I wish it had been written decades ago, when its insights would have spared me so many doubt-plagued hours as I struggled to figure things out for my career path. Fortunately, it’s now here for you.

The secret to success hinges on making the right choices at the right time. Our challenge is to understand the effect our choices will have on us should we pursue them.

If only we had someone to ask, someone with the experience and wisdom to help us see the big picture, someone who can clear away the fog so we can chart the right course.

Enter Howard Stevenson, whose wisdom is the focus of Eric C. Sinoway’s book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work.

Howard spent 40 years as a highly respected professor at Harvard Business School, where his MBA  students included world leaders, corporate CEO’s, and entrepreneurs. He is also an innovator and entrepreneur in his own right, contributing to his distinction, according to Sinoway, as “the father of entrepreneurship at HBS….”

Howard’s books and teachings have created a following of “students” like Sinoway who committed to write this book after Howard’s heart attack, ensuring that Howard’s priceless wisdom would never be lost.

Antennas up

Our career and life choices involve our “inflection points.” We need to be keenly aware of them when they occur and committed to taking the right course of action.

So what is an inflection point? Sinoway writes:

It is a moment when–by choice or not–we pivot from the path down which we were traveling and head in an entirely different direction.

It’s easy to miss or ignore an inflection point, especially when it may not line up with the way we’d planned our course.

Sinoway shares Howard’s explanation:

Inflection points come in all forms: positive, negative, easy, hard, obvious, and subtle. The way you respond–whether you grab hold of a inflection point and leverage it for all it’s worth or just let it carry you along–is as important as the event itself.

In hot pursuit of success, we are frequently faced with inflection points that cause us inner conflict. Howard impresses on his students that “…success doesn’t always equal happiness….” I’ve certainly witnessed examples of that and suspect you have too.

Howard suggests approaching your career by thinking about it from a legacy perspective:

Starting at the end means investing time up front to develop an aspirational picture of your future–a guide for the decisions you make throughout your life.

Knowing what we value in a satisfying career and acting on it are often very different things. What we need to get a firm grip on is the way our notions of success and failure help us or get in our way.

Befriending success and failure

We tend to look at success as reward and failure as punishment for, well, just not being good enough. Our self-confidence, courage, optimism, and sense of self-worth are often held hostage by them both.

Howard removes the weight of success and failure when he says in the book:

You know, people throw around words like success and failure assuming they mean exactly the same thing to everyone–and they don’t….

Have you fallen into that trap?

He adds:

There is no standard metric for evaluating success or failure, in large part because our assessments are heavily affected by the expectations we bring into a situation…our definitions of success and failure change based on personal circumstance; they’re colored by what’s happening around us….

The next time someone tries to detract from your achievements based upon their own measure of success, think of Howard’s words:

 For me, the bottom line is: don’t put yourself in a definitional straitjacket, and don’t allow others to do it to you, either.

It’s inevitable that, from the time we’re very young, we are “shown the way” to success as defined by people around us and the media. No wonder finding our own way can feel confusing, particularly when things don’t go as expected.

Howard offers this perspective:

I prefer to expend my energy only on things that I can affect. What’s past is only useful to me insofar as it offers information to using going forward. ..What other people might call failures I simply see as situations laden with meaning–full of new data and new opportunities for assessing and recalibrating a strategy.

Breaking the code

If you need wise counsel on building your skills, finding mentors, facing your personal truths, attracting the right professional relationships, or achieving life-work balance, you’ll find invaluable perspectives from Howard.

This book reads like a conversation, where we get to listen in. We read about the trials and missteps of others, including Sinoway’s, and how Howard untangles complex career situations, just like the ones you’re facing, bringing important next steps into focus.

The secret to success lies within us. Words from the wise help us break the code.

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

Executive Hot Buttons—Press With Caution

It can be stressful at the top where pressure might not bring out our best. 

Executives are vulnerable all the time to the unexpected. The winds of marketplace change are always in their faces. The potential for bad decisions by managers and misconduct by employees is also ever-present.   

Although executives can’t escape the unforeseen risks that come with the job, they will often show us how they cope. 

Making the complex simple… 

Executives are expected to focus on the big picture. They rely on the managers and subject matter experts, like us, who provide information, recommendations, and analyses needed to make their decisions. 

Our obligation is to influence executive decision-making so our companies move in the right direction, treat employees fairly, and deliver quality products/services to customers in an ethical way. 

Our ability to present information convincingly to executives means knowing what to say, how, and when. Timing in life is everything! 

Executive responsibilities are complex, but often what drives individual executives is simple by comparison. 

Triggers and principles… 

I’ve worked with a fair number of executives over the years as a manager and as a consultant/coach. Each one was different but the process for working effectively with him/her always meant managing the conversation so we could hear each other. 

We don’t always come to an executive with the information or ideas they want to hear, but we need to be sure they can and will listen. 

To do that we need to understand what words and issues set them off as well as the principles that drive them. 

Here’s how it worked with several executives in my professional life, labeled by their hot buttons—the factors that put their teeth on edge: 

Ignorance and Poor Preparation–Knowledge mastery was what gave you credibility with this executive. His overriding leadership principle was to understand fully all aspects of the business: It was his source of certainty and influence. If you wanted to get heard, you needed to be completely prepared, humble in what you might have missed, and willing to dig deeper. 

Weakness and Lack of Commitment—With this executive, an unwillingness to stand by your ideas and/or take ownership of your position resulted in immediate rejection of your proposal. If he could intimidate you into abandoning or waffling on your position, it was deemed unworthy. If you wanted to come out ahead, you had to be prepared to state a strong case and stand up to the grilling. 

Superficial Analysis and Detail Errors—Mistakes in calculations and logic, no matter how insignificant overall, called all other material into question. It provided occasion for this executive to nitpick other details of your proposal and negate the entire work. To stay out of this quicksand, you needed to scrub all data and proofread multiple times.

 Not Seeing the Big Picture—Proposing narrow solutions and initiatives that failed to incorporate the needs of the entire organization came across as self-serving and unsupportive of the company vision. This executive became exasperated when proposals failed to take a comprehensive view, leading to lost confidence in her managers. The key is always to address the potential impacts and implications of anything you propose within and outside your organization. 

Look within… 

We each have hot buttons, so look within to see what yours are. That will help you understand why executives jump out of their skin for some things and not others.

For me, unfairness to others, not doing the right thing even when it’s hard, haphazard work, and not living up to commitments are my hot buttons. They make my heart pound and my ire rise. 

Our principles drive us just as an executive’s does. The stakes can be very high for them, so it’s predictable that they would react strongly when someone pushes their hot buttons. 

So take a moment to think about what drives the executive or manager you work for and how you might approach him/her the next time you have something to propose. That bit of insight can make all the difference.

Photo by JohnE777 from Flickr

Who’s Got Your Back? You Need to Know!| The Essential Internal Network

You’ve got a decent job, a reasonable boss, and nice co-workers. You do good work, get good performance evaluations, and don’t make waves. All’s well, right? Well, maybe not.

Businesses are volatile places. The good times and the bad times don’t last forever, but a lot can happen during those transitions. No job is guaranteed to last, so getting comfy in your daily work routine isn’t a good strategy.

It’s not about “who you know” but “who knows you.” 

Relationships are the underpinning of successful careers.

Businesses are transactional. When there’s a nod in your favor, it means that your work benefits both the nodder (your manager) and the business. More often than not, the first thing noticed about you is your work style, attitude, and ability to collaborate. The work you produce comes next. When both are good, you attract the attention you want.

If, however, your visibility is minimal, your chance for growth is stymied. (Unfortunately, there are some supervisors who like to keep talented employees under the radar for their own selfish purposes.) So it’s important to become known outside of your work group.

Relationships are your lifeline. 

Productive relationships move your forward and draining ones slow you down. So it’s important to find people who share your work values and commitments. Then form a proper business relationship and become mutually supportive.

Nothing beats having well-regarded people in other departments talking about their positive experiences with you. Nothing beats advanced notice or insights into upcoming changes courtesy of your connections. Nothing beats someone tipping you off that there’s a problem afoot that involves you.

Why would your connections want to do that for you? Because they value what you bring to the company and to them.

People have your back because they recognize that you are committed, caring, smart, helpful, dependable, ethical, and reliable. They want and need you in their midst because people like you keep the business going.  

A strong internal network is your success ticket.

Internal networking is not about making a list of people to meet and then checking their names off when you’ve met them. It’s about connecting with other people who can expand your understanding of the business. Ultimately, what you offer each other is broader insight into “what’s really going on” around you.

You need to be strategic about the way you build your internal network:

  • Start by looking at the work you’re accountable for and ask yourself, “What insights am I lacking? Who can help me fill in the blanks?”
  • Then write down the questions or discussion items that you’d like to talk about with specific people outside your work group.
  • Arrange for a time to talk to each person.
  • Commit to how you will follow up and keep the dialogue going. 

Here’s what can result from those conversations over time:

  • Deeper insights into how the business operates and its challenges
  • Understanding of the pressures and problems stirring in other departments
  • The inside track about changes, new initiatives, and competitive opportunities
  • A wholistic perspective on issues facing the company
  • The possibility of attracting a mentor for yourself 

Where does this get you? 

Internal networking demonstrates that you care about the company as a whole, not just the interests of your work group. Your efforts to get a handle on the big picture, your appreciation for work done in other areas, and your desire to use your talents to make the right things happen will make you a standout.

Business fitness means staying connected (a private move) and attracting a following (a public move). Internal networking gets you both and a great group of people who will now know you in the best way. It’s a thing of beauty!

Have you tried internal networking? How has it worked for you? Any tips to share?

“Any Clues, Sherlock?” | Uncovering the Hidden Job Market

Remember the old joke about the little boy whose parents took him to a psychiatrist because they worried he was too optimistic? The psychiatrist took him into a room piled high with horse manure. Instead of recoiling, the boy ran to the pile and began digging frantically. 

His reason: “So much manure. There must be a pony in here somewhere.”

You have to dig to find hidden job opportunities. 

If you’ve confined your job search to job boards, classified listings, career fairs, or agencies, you’re shopping for what’s on the shelf, not what’s hidden.

You also won’t find jobs that fit you by confining your search to titles like:  Entry level marketing specialist, Computer programmer, or Accounting associate.

When you don’t know what you’re really after, you end up in the search line with everyone else, hoping you’ll get lucky.

To find the right job, target the right industry. 

A great job is not about the title. It’s about work that fits your talents and interests. Every business is part of an industry, enterprises engaged in the production goods and services like pharmaceuticals, education, apparel, or entertainment.

Each business supporting an industry does unique work that is often unknown to us.

That means, if you want to tap into the hidden job market, you need to do some sleuthing, Sherlock Holmes style.

Businesses in every industry faces competitive issues. 

For starters, you need to know what’s ailing the businesses you want to work for. Here’s how to start unearthing those challenges:

  • Follow them and their industry in business publications, like the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Inc.
  • Follow them on social media (Facebook and Twitter)
  • Follow their competition
  • Set up Google alerts for each company/industry. Examine what you find
  • Study their websites for what is and isn’t said about their performance 

Draw conclusions about what their issues are in areas like:

  • Customer relationships
  • Financial performance
  • Process efficiency
  • Marketing strategies
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Technology applications 

Turn over the rocks! Reveal what’s underneath. 

By now, you’ll know what their big picture needs are. You’ll also know how you can help meet those needs. Now, frame your plan:

Identify a specific, targeted need that you can help them improve like: 

  • Expanding market reach through social media
  • Reducing specific production errors by upgrading software
  • Improving employee awareness of buyers’ habits
  • Providing oversight on new financial regulations 

Present yourself. Get known. 

Identify someone to talk to in that business who’s facing the needs you identified.

Contact them by phone or written correspondence (since this stands out more than another e-mail his his/her mailbox).

Identify the issue that you have been looking at and frame it in a way that fits your talents. For example: say,

“I have been following XYZ issue in your industry for the past 3 months and would appreciate the opportunity to get your perspective. I would like to talk with you (pick one):

  • In preparation for a blog post that I will be writing
  • As an expert resource for an article I’m freelancing
  • For a paper I’m writing for my college class
  • To get a broader understanding of the issue
  • To test my perceptions about a potential “fix” 

After each meeting, agree on how you will remain in contact. Do what it takes to keep the conversation going without being overbearing.

Eventually, you will find the right opportunity to state your interest in working for that company, using the expertise that you’ve been demonstrating.

Good jobs remain hidden until you find them. 

If something’s worth having, it’s worth working for. Getting the really good jobs are about preparation and readiness, not luck. That’s why being business fit makes for a satisfying and long career. Now, let’s see what you’ve got!

What did you do to pierce the hidden job market? Got at a trick to share?