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.



The Price of “Going Leaderless”—Lessons from the Libyan Rebels

It’s a case of follow the leader. That’s how organizations are designed to function.  

We expect leaders to lead. Some do and some don’t. We know our success is connected to them, either directly or indirectly. The clearer their direction, the more optimistic we feel. 

Now I’ve worked for or with managers who couldn’t lead themselves out of a paper bag. They would either: 

  • Do what their employees wanted—the avenue of least resistance
  • Do what they thought their bosses wanted, right or wrong
  • Make short-term, inconsequential decisions, easily reversed
  • Talk a good game but never make anything happen, avoiding accountability at all costs 

They made me want to throw up my hands in despair: I knew that forward progress, meaningful change, and/or essential results were not coming through them any time soon. 

One step forward, a dozen back 

We may be tempted to say, at the height of our leader frustrations, that we’re better off with no leader than an impotent one. When our coworkers are great people who “get it,” have the talent, and demonstrate the will, why should we be stymied by a leader in name only. 

Do leaders really matter when we all know what we’re fighting for? 

The Libyan rebel forces attempting to overthrow the 42-year dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, are testing the question. 

They started out strong, taking cities to the east. Then they headed toward Tripoli, Gaddafi’s stronghold. The U.S., along with coalition forces, took action to create a no-fly zone, providing the rebels with some cover from the onslaught of pro-government forces. 

The rebels moved forward and then back. Forward again…back again. 

Earlier this week, Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, filed reports about how the rebels were holding up under the retreat-causing pressures from Gaddafi. He made these observations:

 Many rebels were feeling dejected, losing confidence and optimism because:

  • There was no central leadership to provide strategies or tactics for the fight.
  • They had weapons (although not enough) but limited skills in how to use them.
  • There were no coordinated means of communication to let them know how the fighting was going or to (re)direct their actions. 

Engel asked one of the rebels what keeps them fighting. The answer: Honor and the desire for freedom. 

Borzou Daragahi and David Zucchino from the Tribune Newspapers, reported in a March 31, 2011 article in The Morning Call: 

“The rebel effort was plagued by confusion and dissention. Volunteer fighters bickered over tactics and weapons.” 

More signs of the price of leaderless-ness. 

Leaders make a difference. 

 There’s a price to pay for going leaderless, heading into uncharted territory without a guide. Why? Because leaders define reality and set direction.

Leaders are the people who pull things together so that we can “battle” wisely and successfully. At work we need leaders who will: 

  • Build strategies that position us for success and build optimism
  • Assemble a coalition of supporters to get approval for our ideas
  • Step in and halt actions that are unfair or counterproductive
  • Upgrade our skills to meet new demands
  • Advocate for collaboration and resolve differences
  • Represent our interests in negotiations
  • Obtain and allocate the resources we need
  • Give us reason for enthusiasm and celebration 

When we’re leaderless, we flounder. We keep looking around, searching for someone to step in and pull everything together, putting us on sound footing. The longer we have to wait, the greater our struggle to stay motivated, confident, and optimistic. 

Just like the rebels, we want a leader who believes we’ll succeed, so we’ll believe it too and work harder. 

When it’s all on the line, great leaders pull disparate forces together.  They give us the best chance to advance, no matter what obstacles we face. When you least expect it, that leader may be you. Hope you’re getting ready!

Photo from شبكة برق | B.R.Q via Flickr