New Supervisor Revisited

The moment I read Amy’s blog from last week (Top Ten New Supervisor Skills) I knew I had to use my time and space this week to expand on a couple of her points.  I’ve often mentioned that much of what I know about effective workplaces comes from years of conducting workplace investigations (before that I actually was a manager for quite a number of years, and also speak from that experience.)  Several of the points Amy made last week really hit home with me because a number of my recent investigations have underscored their importance. 

  • Understand your new role and maintain boundaries…You don’t want to go partying and drinking with your subordinates.  But why not?  They were your friends before you became a supervisor – why can’t they remain your friends?  This is a really, really tough one.  As someone who was friends over the years with several people I supervised, I can tell you this: it does make it more difficult to treat them the same way you treat subordinates who are not friends.  And, even if you do treat them the say way, you will ALWAYS be perceived as playing favorites.  So, even if you are able to split your brain into work and play and never allow the one to influence the other, coworkers and other subordinates will simply never believe you can do this and will always believe, as I’ve found in investigation after investigation, that you’re playing favorites.  It really is best to separate yourself from your subordinates, though it is admittedly difficult.
  • Learn the fundamentals of delegating, directing and coaching.  I have coached many new supervisors.  A common belief of people in that position is, “Now that I’m the supervisor, things will FINALLY be done right – my way!”  A couple of points to keep in mind: things will be done exactly as you want them done only if you do them yourself – and in most supervisory jobs that not only defeats the purpose of being a supervisor, but is just plain impossible.  So, get over that thought.  Decide what things absolutely have to be done a certain way (and no, not everything does) and let the rest go.  Your subordinates have their own methods and styles, and that gives them pride in the work they do and a sense of ownership.  Help them and coach them and mentor them – but realize that they are (by and large) quite competent to do the work. And, if one of them is not, treat that person as the exception in need of additional help and don’t assume that everyone else needs the same level of support and direction.
  • Understand the larger system in which you work.  In your new role it is now your job to relay what top management wants, and the values of the organization, to your staff.  One of the most common things I encounter in my work is the supervisory (or other) employee who publicly fights management because he/she believes they are doing something ‘wrong.’  In this case ‘wrong’ is not illegal, immoral, unethical or unprofessional.  It’s just not the way that employee thinks it should be done.  As a supervisor you are paid to represent management to your staff and unless you are directed to do something illegal, immoral, unethical or unprofessional, that’s what you need to do – without criticizing it to your staff.  It may not be the way you’d like to do it or even the way you think it ‘should’ be done, and you can and should express your concerns to management in private.  But, once the decision is made to go in a certain direction, as a supervisor it is now your job to lead your staff in that direction.  This can be one of the toughest lessons for new supervisors – it certainly was for me!  And, if you find you simply can’t do that, find a work setting that’s a better fit – staying in a place where you think management often does things ‘wrong’ can give you a heart attack.

As I was thinking about these and the other skills for new supervisors, it occurred  to me that they’re certainly not just important for new supervisors, but for all supervisors and managers.

Do you agree?  Disagree? Have you faced the challenge of being a new supervisor?  What happened?  ~ Daphne Schneider




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