Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #3 | You and Your Mistakes

So what do good supervisors do when they make mistakes? That’s the question I left you with after Episode #2.

Supervising is murky. It doesn’t lend itself to measurement. Subjective evaluation, yes, but hard measures, not that I can see.

There are terrific books on how to become a great supervisor, like Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break All the Rules, but they aren’t recipes. You can’t put your interpersonal style, employee performance expectations, and feedback methods in a blender and serve up the perfect smoothie every time.

Doing a good job as a supervisor takes a realistic frame of mind, accepting that a lot of the time you’re good, sometimes even great. But there will be times when you’re woefully deficient, times your employees remember most.

You will make people mistakes, some big and others relatively insignificant. You’ll learn a ton about your employees and yourself each time you foul up.

Supervisors not cut out for the job don’t react well when they mess up. Some withdraw, lose confidence, wither, or self-flagellate. Others get defensive, resentful, or disillusioned.

Good supervisors see every misstep as a learning experience. They know how to recover. Their frame of mind is always focused on progress. When there’s a setback, a miscue, or a failure, they act fast.

Concede mistakes.                                                                                                        

Supervisors often derail their own careers because they’re afraid to make a mistake, especially with their employees..

Trying to be a perfect, by-the-book supervisor takes all the fun out of it. It’s a job more like white water rafting than a canoe trip. You get all wet, bounced around like a pinball, bashed against the rocks, and even thrown into the drink when you don’t hold on tight enough.

But, when you’re finally on dry ground, you realize how exhilarating it was: the risk, the camaraderie with your raft-mates, the demands of the river, and the courage you discovered was really in you.

Supervising is a wild ride. It tests you like the river. Your employees are about as unpredictable as the speed of the rapids and the rocks hiding below the surface. No one knows what they’re getting into when they agree to supervise.

We might like to predict how it will be and convince ourselves that we know what to do when the raft gets swamped. But we’re only kidding ourselves.

It’s true that some supervisor mistakes are more egregious than others. You can’t, on a bad day, speak abusively to an employee, even if it’s someone you and others believe has long needed a tongue-lashing. Abuse of any kind under any circumstance is both wrong and an indelible black mark.

You also can’t behave unethically: steal time, permit employees to break company rules, violate laws, and misuse company resources. These bad behaviors should go without saying, but I’ve read enough news coverage on errant business leaders to know that they need to be said.

Unless you want to make yourself into neurotic, hyper-controlling nut case, it’s just better to accept that you will make mistakes and do your best to fix them.

Think first.

Most mistakes that create employee problems come out of our mouths. We say the wrong things, at the wrong time, and in front of the wrong people in a tactless tone of voice, with bad body language, and without full awareness of the situation.

Sometimes we know right away that we bumbled, so we can correct ourselves. But most often, we don’t understand the impact until there are signs much later, signs that spell trouble.

We unwittingly set the stage for our mistakes by not thinking about the significance of what we, as supervisors, say and do. Clearly we don’t want to set ourselves up for calamity, but to avoid it, we need to adopt some important mistake-minimizing steps, like setting and maintaining boundaries.

So, what do good supervisors do to set boundaries that minimize mistakes? We’ll tackle that question in Episode #4.

Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode # 2 | It Starts with You.

What does it take to provide good supervision? That’s the question I left you with after

Episode #1.

The quick answer:  

Stay connected to the needs of your employees.

Supervisors affect the ability of employees to produce good work through words and behaviors that either positively or negatively affect self-esteem, self-confidence, growth, and optimism about their career future. That’s a very big deal, one that makes being a supervisor deeper than it may sound.

The you-role connection

Too many supervisors forget that they’re leaders. Their job is to create an environment where employees want to be followers, willing to stretch themselves to achieve results that will pay off and make a difference.

Earning that employee following starts with understanding what you do that attracts or repels it. There’s no formula for that, alas.

Supervisors need to face and master their hot buttons. There are employees who can spin gold out of straw (Yay) and others who inevitably turn gold into cow patties (Boo) because their work ethic and attitudes fall short of expectations. Some employee behaviors  may frost you, likely to bring out your worst. As supervisors, we’re all tested.

Each situation teaches you something important about yourself. How you handle each one showcases your respect for individuals, the team, the work, the company, and yourself. Strike the right balance and increase the depth and range of your following.

Supervising reveals what you stand for, the principles you won’t compromise. I knew what they were for me when I was willing risk my job or my influence to:

  • go to the mat for employees I thought were being unfairly treated
  • challenge policies that made it impossible for employees to serve the customer well
  • openly voice objections to  company mixed-messages that were demotivating

Being a good supervisor means getting over yourself.  Big shot supervisors end up as easy targets for undermining employee noise. Supervisors with humility earn the respect of their employees when it’s evident that they’re working to help employees succeed, not the other way around.

Getting it right

Every day supervisors need to make decisions and take actions that must balance the needs of the organization and their employees.

Good supervisors understand how to adhere to policies and practices without being shackled by them. They can resolve difficult employee problems without compromising the standards of fairness to others. They can advocate for their work group with upper management  without undermining others.

Good supervisors need to know what’s going on without micro-managing and to intervene for the right reasons at the right time.

On that point you may be asking yourself, “How do I know what to do, when to do it, and how?”

I’d like to say there’s a formula for that too, but there isn’t.

Every supervisor learns how and when to intervene by doing it. When you see, overhear, or sense a problem, need, or infraction, you must act.

Some situations require immediate action and others give you time to think. Getting it right is the challenge; mistakes are inevitable but rarely lethal.

Sometimes supervisors must be judge and jury, teacher and Dutch uncle, coach and referee, cheerleader and conscience. The buck always stops with you, that’s why you’re earning them.

Supervising people well (yes, they are people first) can be the most important contribution you make to their careers, even their lives. There lies the true weight of the role.

The payoff

With the challenges of supervision come great rewards, so remember to savor them: the satisfaction of seeing your employees perform at their best, of contributing to their growth and future success, and of discovering your best self  as you grow as a leader.

Good supervisors have the courage to do what’s right even when there’s a price to pay. They’re honest about their deficiencies and mistakes; care genuinely about their employees, even the one’s they don’t like or who fall short; and insightful about what’s really going on around them, enabling them to take the right action at the right time.

So what do good supervisors do when they make mistakes? That’s a topic for Episode #3.

 

Getting Your Head Around Supervising- Episode #1 | What’s Your Take?

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.

The struggle

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.

All In or Just Passing Go? Getting Good Pays Off | Seinfeld Says

“Ho hum.” That’s too often the mantra about our jobs.

We do our work routinely, passing go, like in the Monopoly game, collecting our weekly paychecks, hoping our mundane job will one day turn into a thrill ride.

The fact is: We get from our jobs what we expect…of ourselves. What we put in determines what comes out.

When it comes to creating a long, satisfying career, each of us is accountable.

It’s not about the boss who won’t promote you or the company that doesn’t provide training or the coworkers who are duds. It’s about you:

  • the goals you set,
  • the quality of work you do,
  • the effort you make to build skills,
  • the risks you’re willing to take–like saying “yes” to new assignments or switching companies

The truth is:

Getting good brings you to a love of your work.

Achieve that and the payoffs are yours.

All in?

You know who the serious careerists are at work. You see them knuckling down and pounding out the work. They know what they want to get good at because that’s where their strengths and interests are. So they keep testing themselves, making “can do” their mantra.

Employees who come to work only to pass go are a drag on the organization. They perpetuate the status quo when success requires growth. Ho hum locks you in place..

Getting good

Our strengths are the starting point for getting good. By focusing on strengths that motivate you consistently, you can set goals that keep inching you toward the career success you want.

Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, from the TV series and mega-hit, Seinfeld, is a case in point.

He appeared on the Mike and Mike in the Morning program on ESPN (January 30, 2014) for the first time. Co-host Michael Greenberg asked Seinfeld questions that led to insightful (not funny) answers.

First, Greenburg wanted to know why Seinfeld was still doing standup and other projects since he didn’t need the money:

 Anybody who’s ever good at anything is doing it because they love it…it’s a way of life for me, it’s not about the money…it feels like you’re using what you have.

Seinfeld spoke openly about how he struggled to become a good comedian. Performing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was his big moment: Succeed there or go up in flames. He had to be “all in” or else.

Seinfeld observed in successful baseball players that same commitment to being all in:

I admire anyone who is in love with their craft and their pursuit. People who kill themselves with the physical and prep side of the game…I want to see how they approach the game. The guys who put the mental work into the game.

Seinfeld recognizes that getting good means understanding how success is achieved:

Baseball is a beautiful model of how things happen…In football it’s hard for us to understand the formations and the play calls. In baseball we can see pretty easily what happened.

In our careers we need to see and understand what’s going on too–the politics of the workplace, the competitive environment, performance expectations, and the capabilities of our coworkers.

Being all in at work means being fully aware of what’s going on in our field of play.

Recommit.

Getting good is a commitment you build on for as long as you wish. Seinfeld recently launched a on-line video series, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. It’s an unscripted conversation that takes his comedian guests, as he says, “out of their packaging.”

Seinfeld  wanted to learn “how things happen” around internet programming, being fascinated by the idea that he could shoot a segment and then: “I can immediately put a show in your pocket.”

Once you know what “all in” feels like, it can take you places you never imagined.

All of us aren’t Jerry Seinfeld, but we’re either all in or just passing go in our careers. Now’s a good time to raise the volume on your “can do” mantra and recommit.

Feeling Left Out and Don’t Know Why? Turn Things Around. | Reaching Out

It can’t be avoided but we don’t want it to last.

It’s that feeling of being disconnected, conspicuous, and self-conscious whenever we’re plunked in workplace situations with people who don’t know us. It can happen when we:

  • join a new work group
  • participate in a cross-functional meeting
  • attend an industry conference
  • go to our first company party
  • become part of a new project team

The sooner we feel accepted the better. For some it’s easy but not for others. Feeling excluded  can drag us down and stall our careers.

The “why” of it

We can usually sense that we’re being left out by theses clues:

  • Blatant exclusion — being uninvited to meetings, ignored, ostracized, bypassed
  • Disregard– repeated rejection of input, unacknowledged communication, impolite treatment
  • Avoidance–unwillingness of colleagues to interact, collaborate, or talk with us

The reasons for being left out are many, so it helps to figure out enough so we can try to turn things around.

Generally, exclusion (temporary or permanent) may be the result of some discomfort  our colleagues feel because of our:

  • physical appearance (size, shape, gait, dress, race)
  • sound (accent, tone of voice, pace of speaking)
  • background (ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic group)
  • career specialty (techie, scientist, writer, hands-on worker)
  • reputation (climber, flirt, trouble-maker, boaster, truth-bender)

When  colleagues make us feel left out, their reasons are as much a commentary about them as us. The difference is that we’re the ones who feel the pain.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially at work, since company culture, work demands, and personalities create unique pressures.

Whether what others think about us is fair or correct isn’t the focus. It’s what we’re going to do to correct misconceptions and build positive perceptions that make us an accepted and valued part of the team.

What to do.

Once we have an inkling about the barriers to our being included, we need to shrink them.

It’s easy to be resentful and have a chip on your shoulder. When you do, it makes matters worse.

The reality is that we’re all capable of being excluders, even when while we’re being excluded.  It happens when:

  • We don’t know how to include someone we don’t know well; our tongues get tied and our feet stuck.
  • No one else in the work group has yet made a move, so the ice is not yet broken for us.
  • We’re uncertain about how connecting will affect us one-on-one and as part of the team.
  • There is a fear that our overture will be rejected, misread, or misused.

Inclusion at work is an investment in a relationship. When it’s positive, everyone wins; if not, then the price can be dear. That’s why coworkers are often careful or unwilling to step forward.

Take the pledge.

Healthy, productive organizations need everyone to feel valued. Anyone who feels left out is likely to perform below par, lack motivation to grow, and experience career disappointment.

Supervisors who fail to create inclusive work groups risk escalation of unwanted behaviors that slowly poison the operation.

Each of us is responsible for contributing to a fully inclusive work environment, even when we’re feeling excluded. That’s the big challenge.

We all need to pledge that we’ll extend a hand to a coworker who may feel left out. It’s about doing simple things:

  • Greet him warmly when your paths cross
  • Invite her to join in a discussion, meeting, or event
  • Talk with him about his work
  • Share news that she might have missed
  • Volunteer to work with him on an assignment
  • Commit to kindness

If you are feeling excluded now or if you have been excluded in the past, please pledge to take these small steps. They are a path to inclusion over time that will also benefit you.

Our career success is a product of what we do and how we do it. Remember those who reached out to you along the way and please pay it forward where you work.

Here One Day…Then? Accepting Self-confidence As a Work in Progress

We know it when we feel it. When it’s in our grip, we soar. When it leaves us in the lurch, we land hard.

Self-confidence, by definition, is:

  • Being sure of your own abilities
  • Trusting those abilities
  • Having faith in them
  • Feeling assured you really have them

Self-confidence is in our heads. It’s the way we assess ourselves and decide if we’ve met expectations–our own and others.

Every day, readers find their way to my posts on self-confidence using search phrases like:

  • I’ve lost my self-confidence and I don’t know why (or I do).
  • I need help getting my self-confidence back.
  • No matter what I do, I can’t find self-confidence.

I get it: I’ve uttered those words myself.

It’s universal.

Everyone struggles to build and maintain self-confidence.

The way we see ourselves changes. The way we process feedback changes the way we see ourselves. New experiences test our abilities either adding to or detracting from our self-confidence.

It’s a moving target which makes maintaining self-confidence a work in progress.

Most of us don’t like that. We want our self-confidence to be a constant, something we can draw on anytime like a fat bank account. But that would take the growth factor out of living and working.

We can’t grow and get better if we’re all comfy about our self-confidence. We need to be kept off balance a bit, so we will push ourselves.

Consider this:

No matter how accomplished someone is–how famous, how rich, and how long they’ve been on top–loss of self-confidence will occur time and again.

So when our self-confidence sinks, we need to stop all the woe-is-me talk and get cracking.

The only real way to build or restore your self-confidence  is to act, to keep doing whatever will re-energize your belief in yourself.

You may have to turn to family, friends, and/or advisers to get you thinking more positively, but in the end, it’s about you getting busy.

Famed country singer and actress, Dolly Parton, after a meteoric early career, had to face an unsuccessful movie, tensions with big players in the industry, and the loss of her personal support system (long time friends who were moving on with their own lives.) She felt alone and became unglued.

She wrote in her autobiography, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business:

I collapsed. It seemed that all my support systems had disappeared. The very foundation of all my beliefs had been shaken. The dreamy little kid from the mountains had become a fat, disillusioned, hopeless woman.

She stopped singing, playing guitar, and writing. She felt that people had given up on her because they thought she’d lost her drive. After some lengthy, painful soul-searching, she snapped out of it, writing:

It’s okay to think that about Dolly Parton, but better not stand in the road in front of her. I was about to come roaring back.

Self-confidence is a commitment to yourself, no matter if the cards seem stacked against you or how you were raised.

Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Dern, a veteran of over 80 films, revealed on ABC’s Live with Kelly & Michael, that as a child he was considered, by his parents, so uninteresting that he had to raise his hand at the dinner table in order to speak.

Dern clearly found a way to build his self-confidence anyway.

What to do?

When your self-confidence flags, you might follow these steps to reinvigorate it:

  • Figure out what caused its decline (Answer: who, what, when, where, how)
  • List prior achievements that initially built your self-confidence; internalize them.
  • Commit to being optimistic.
  • Recommit to patterns of behavior and actions that brought prior success
  • Learn and adopt new approaches that make sense.
  • Keep working, participating, and putting yourself out there.
  • Build momentum, assess your progress, make mid-course corrections, and keep going.

Self-confidence comes from building your capabilities and doing things successfully

As people, we are all a work in progress, and our self-confidence is our engine. Get ready to rev it up!

 

Finding Yourself in Your Work or Losing Yourself in It? | Pursuing Growth

Work has a habit of revealing a lot about you.

Coworkers watch what you do and then draw conclusions like you:

  • Really know how to get stuff done the right way (or not)
  • Are someone who should be promoted (or never allowed to supervise)
  • Want to keep getting better (or only do enough to get by)

You assess yourself too each time you cross a work hurdle, discovering that you:

  • Take to new assignments with relative ease (or struggle with new expectations)
  • Collaborate easily with others (or create conflict)
  • See a future for yourself there (or can’t wait for a way out)

Our career stops can be either greenhouses or dark holes.

It’s your call.

Our careers are what we make them. They’re a product of the work we do.

Career problems arise when we forget that we’re doing the driving.

For lots of compelling reasons, we convince ourselves that the most important things are to:

  • Keep our jobs
  • Get promoted to anything
  • Work endless hours as though that’s a sign of our value
  • Acquire the trappings of success (titles, perks, access, and raises)

To avoid getting lost on a road to somewhere you don’t want to be, you need to keep asking yourself  no-nonsense questions like:

  • Why did I take this job?
  • What am I working toward and is that what I really want?
  • What are my options?
  • What’s my plan?

It’s tempting to set these questions aside when you think you’ve landed your dream job. But one day, you’ll wake up and realize there are other dreams you’re ready to chase.

Career growth is intrinsic compensation. It’s not the training programs your company offers. It’s what you seize when you’ve mastered your job, developed your skills, and engaged in new experiences.

I started my career teaching high school in an upscale school district. I was excited to be learning so much about how to do the job well, handling challenging students, and discovering how schools really worked.

In the mid-1970s I had relocated and was teaching in a suburban school at a time when teachers weren’t held in very high regard. There were strikes and I was becoming disillusioned. After 10 years in education, growth stalled for me. So I moved on.

Instead of growing in that career, I was starting to lose myself.

It happened again when I was a manager at a big corporation. The first 10 years were full of growth, discovery, and ever-increasing challenges, followed by five years honing that growth, and five more on a mammoth change project. When what lay ahead was more of the same, off I went.

Listen to your inner voice.

If you’ve read this far, you know whether or not you’re growing in your career or losing yourself in it.

You also likely have a sense of what the next couple of years will look like for you and what your job will give or take from you. Now’s the time to plan your next steps.

Mike Greenberg, ESPN radio and TV host, offered this advice on the Mike & Mike program (9/25/13):

You can’t wish for things as they used to be. Just go with the way things are.

Perhaps your job used to be what you always wanted, but it’s now changed and the company culture with it. The reality is that you won’t get the past back; you only have the way things are to build from. The sooner you have a plan, the happier you’ll be.

Commitment to your growth never needs to stop.

Former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, now 87, was interviewed on the CBS Sunday Morning program (10/20/13) upon the release of his new book. When asked about retirement, he answered:

 I don’t know what it [retirement] means. Stop thinking?

When it comes to our careers, there is no reason to stop thinking…and growing.