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!


Whose Job Is It Anyway? | Set Boundaries. Create Accountability.

I loved that TV game show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” emceed by Drew Carey from 1998-2006, featuring masterful comedy improv artists like Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, and  Wayne Brady.

In each episode, the performers were given surprise, off-the-wall situations to enact, making up dialogue off the top of their heads. They had to take on peculiar roles and follow weird rules. The pace was frenetic. Their creative antics were hilarious. And the winner, that Drew selected, was the comic who did the best job meeting his unstated expectations.

Your job is your role.  

Supervisors assign performance expectations. Employees act on them. There’s feedback along the way to make sure everyone is on the same page.

But then things break down and supervisors find themselves:

  • Catching careless employee mistakes and fixing them
  • Double-checking work before it gets released
  • Answering endless how-to questions on routine tasks
  • Uncovering neglected office procedures
  • Facing push-back on performance feedback 

Many supervisors struggle with holding employees accountable for their work. When it’s time to address weak performance, they feel bad about doing it.

Whose work is it anyway?

When employees don’t deliver what’s expected, they shouldn’t be able to win. But they do win if their supervisor:

  • Does the work for them
  • Catches their mistakes for them
  • Answers all their questions
  • Coddles them when their work is slipping 

When supervisors are doing work that belongs to their employees, in whole or in part, the company is paying two people to do the same work. No business model survives that way. Boundaries help everyone succeed.

Gotta know your lines! 

Unfortunately, boundaries can blur easily. It starts with incidents that seem so innocent, so minimal, and occasional. But they creep up on you.

So you have to keep your guard up and your “lines” ready. Here are typical scenarios that most supervisors face:

Situation 1:  Martha comes to your office (in fact, interrupts your work) to ask you the latest information on a company policy while her customer is on hold. She’s been trained on the policy and how to access the company’s on-line FAQs.

Your lines: “Martha, you have access to that information. Please tell the customer you will find it and call him back in 15 minutes.” 

Situation 2: John is responsible for ensuring that there is sufficient inventory to cover monthly demand. He failed to meet that standard again this month. In his own defense, he told you that his suppliers were not delivering on time.

Your lines: “John, this is the third consecutive month that inventory has not met demand. I need to review the initiatives you will put into place to deal with suppliers? Please prepare a written plan for me to review and discuss with you before noon on Friday.” 

Situation 3: Sylvia’s performance has been declining in two areas: meeting monthly internal communications deadlines and launching a social media marketing team. During your feedback session, Sylvia argues with you, defending her performance.

Your lines: “Sylvia, I have described my expectations for these areas of your performance. I have just  given you specific examples of work that has fallen short. I hear the justifications that you are giving me but that doesn’t change my expectations. I want you to succeed here and am willing to support the efforts you make. I would like to meet with you again tomorrow and talk about what specific steps you will take to improve.” 

Let your boundaries propel accountability.  

As a supervisor, you are accountable for the collective output of your work group. But each employee is accountable for his/her own work. Your job is to ensure that accountabilities are being met by being supportive but without taking on their work. Being business fit means staying focused on what needs to be done and by whom. When your employees know whose job it is, your job is a lot sweeter!

Were you ever in a situation where someone tried to off-load their work to you? What were your lines? How did everything resolve itself?