Sometimes the best way to see an issue clearly is to take it to its hypothetical extremes. The heightened contrast between them better illustrates the best and worst in a concept.
At a recent seminar I attended, the facilitator asked the class for words and phrases that described our best and worst supervisors. Here’s how we answered:
The Best: mentor, teacher, leads by example, accessible, coaching, communicator, visionary, trustworthy, encouraging, people person, supporter, allows independent working, morals, delegates, clear expectations.
The Worst: micromanager, unethical, angry, absent, lack of knowledge, rules by fear, arrogant, selfish, disengaged, doesn’t delegate, unscrupulous, dictatorial.
As an employee, which of these would you rather have as a supervisor? As a supervisor, which would you rather be?
There are two obvious conclusions from this exercise:
● The contrast is stark!
● The class had experienced its share of both kinds!
What is perhaps not so obvious is the intentionality behind those extremes. Who sets out to become the worst at their jobs? Who really wants to be purposefully ineffective and counterproductive? Yet it happens—and we can probably all name a few examples!
The root difference between the worst and the best among us, I believe, is not so much capability as it is intentionality. Without a conscious determination to be extraordinary, average thinking leads inevitably to mediocrity. Outright contempt for the best practices, intentional or not, assures the worst results.
Navigating our way to what we want to become requires planning and decisively aiming for the right results. Hitting the bulls-eye is rarely ever an accident.
So supervising others starts with intentionally supervising yourself.
Yet a supervisor simply cannot be proficient in content only. My son once worked for a small technical company whose founders were experts at their craft, but demonstrably lacked core competencies, as they spent through their employees as so many “work units.” Needless to say, their turnover was extremely high, which cost them time, money, and their own corporate futures.
Beyond the subject you majored in, or the process in which you’ve been trained, your added duty as a supervisor is to responsibly lead other people in achieving your mutual goals. What will make you a superior supervisor is not just technical know-how and experience, but how you communicate, share, and apply that knowledge in an engaging way with your staffers. The ability to engender trust, communicate, coach, empower and motivate is how the real work gets done.
Once you’ve determined to be a good supervisor—and maybe even the best—pursue, practice and perfect these five core competencies of the best leader-supervisors:
Credibility. Only after developing within yourself honesty, integrity, loyalty, accountability, and reliability can these virtues develop trust with the people you supervise, which in turn earns you their willing (and therefore more effective) cooperation. Be credible.
Communication. Effective communication is both an art and a science that is learned through training and practice. The best flows freely in two-way exchanges involving mutual listening, understanding and articulating. Align your verbal language with your nonverbal language to avoid mixed messages. Build rapport with empathy and reinforce retention with creativity. Be authentic, expressive, and proactive.
Coaching. While you are responsible for the results of your team, being an authoritarian taskmaster will consign you into the company of the worst. Discover the strengths and weaknesses of your direct reports to enable you to insightfully maximize their productivity in well-matched niches, while mentoring them to improve their flat spots. Coach with care; mentor with candor.
Empowering. The difference between successful, happy supervisors and successful, miserable supervisors is found in the ability to get things done through others. Foster independent thinking by delegating responsibility with authority. Empower results by providing the necessary tools, resources and support they need to succeed. Enable more by doing less.
Motivating. This is the competency that elevates a supervisor from good to best: knowing what, when and how to offer incentives that genuinely reward the desired behaviors and outcomes. Cultivate the fulfilling incentives of choice through trust, competence through coaching, meaningfulness through vision, and progress through celebration. Incentivize to realize.
MasterPoint: Being intentional is becoming to the best in me.