From Boss Basher to Being the Boss: How’s That Workin’ Out? | Supervision Unveiled

We all do it to some degree. We watch our supervisors and wonder, “What the heck do they do all day?”

They’re always on the phone or going to meetings. They walk around carrying papers or peering at their Blackberries. Sometimes they might stop and talk to us about something we’re doing or not doing. Whatever!

So we say, “Hey, I could do that job and way better.”


Consider this: All supervisors think they must know how to supervise. After all, a manager (who is a bigger supervisor) picked them for the job. Ergo, they must have the skills to supervise successfully.

A lot of supervisors start out as workers in the departments they eventually supervise. They know how the prior boss did things and they know their employees who were once coworkers. To be a good supervisor, they just need to stop doing what the prior boss did that no one liked. Right?

Well, not exactly. Something mysterious happens once a former coworker becomes the supervisor. In time, s/he becomes a lot like the old boss, maybe a little better or even a little worse, but surely similar. Before too long, we hear ourselves bashing him/her too. 

Time out!

There’s reason to be empathetic toward supervisors who discover that they really don’t understand what their job is. They are shocked when they realize that, at the end of the day, they produce no concrete outputs.

The notion of having a job where your success is measured by the work your employees complete is difficult to get your head around. Many supervisors can’t!

Can you do this? 

Imagine you’re a new supervisor, committed to being the kind of boss your work group has been longing for. Here’s what you’ll be doing to make sure the work assigned to your group gets done on time, on spec, within budget, and without flaws:

  • Dealing with employees and others (addressing needs, problems, issues, and expectations)
  • Setting goals and holding employees accountable
  • Planning and scheduling work
  • Tracking progress and making mid-course corrections
  • Making decisions on the spot to solve problems
  • Being accountable to your own boss (a manager who may be no picnic!)
  • Submitting reports on time
  • Completing performance appraisals and assigning raises
  • Hiring and firing (You’ll get flak for that!)
  • Changing the way work is done to increase efficiencies 

That’s the easy stuff. Then there’s this:

  • Supporting upper management decisions you don’t agree with
  • Defending your work group when facing unjustified criticism
  • Building and/or mending relationships with supervisors/managers at odds with you
  • Intervening when employees break the rules (substance abuse, theft, violence)
  • Communicating new and often unpopular policies
  • Building a cohesive team who will respect and follow you 

That’s quite a hefty weight to bear. Not everyone has the strength or the acumen.

The way it goes! 

Tolerance for ambiguity, patience, complex problem solving, good communication skills, and an awareness of how people perceive things are essential supervisory capabilities.

When you see your supervisor walking around with those papers, nose in the Blackberry, attending meetings, and talking to coworkers, the matters at hand are often quite complex and not for public consumption. It’s not as simple as we’d like to think!

In all fairness…. 

I have huge respect for good supervisors. And I have low regard for managers who hire people unprepared for the role. That hurts everyone.

Any job that includes the privilege of directing others is a leadership job in my view. Achieving business fitness is our commitment to developing the capabilities needed to be a good boss when given the opportunity. We desperately need better bosses at every level. We could use you if you’re up for it!

Have you ever verbally bashed a supervisor? Do you still feel justified? What should s/he have done better? Thanks for the insight!