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How To Have Good Supervisors
11/04/2019 John Grubbs
Good supervisors

The deep end of the pool is where most aspiring supervisors are thrown.  Sink or swim with only survival and experience as a preserver for life in the new role.  It is repeated over and over in organization after organization.  The epidemic of bad supervision in the workplace is magnified by a young generation of nomadic workers that simply migrate from one job opportunity to the next without regard for old stigma of job hopping.  New workers place the most recent work experience on an application because a complete job history would just take too much time, paper, and effort.  Potential employers are only privy to the work experience applicants choose to provide.

Historically, bad supervision has always been present.  The difference and the impact are in generational attitudes present in the workplace.  Previous generations would tolerate bad supervisors because they were raised to be loyal and not move from job to job.  Today’s workers do not share this belief. 

It is time to talk about your supervisors.  It requires a completely different skill set to supervise an activity than it does to perform an activity.  Most supervisors have not learned these basic skills.  Moreover, these skills are not being utilized them to improve the tenure and performance of today’s worker.  Supervisory retention skills are absent in many organizations.  While not exhaustive, following are common challenges facing organizations:

Struggling supervisors do not understand the distinction between fear and respect.  The blending of these two concepts blurs the line between bully and leader.  While one may fear the bully they certainly do not respect them.  People seek the courage to stand up to the bully.  It is no different in the workplace.  A bully boss may gain a short-term benefit, however in the long-term, higher turnover and lower productivity will occur.  Fear slowly changes to resentment and as employees gain process knowledge, they learn ways to get back at the boss.  Leadership is absent in this environment.  Employers of bully supervisors cannot figure why morale is so bad.

Many supervisors are oblivious to the fact that there is a simple method to give feedback.  They are ignorant (they do not know what they do not know) that giving feedback is a skill that we can learn and do effectively.  They hope behavior will change and it rarely does.  The workplace becomes a series of pressure vessel explosions that ultimately lead to resignation or dismissal.  We all communicate, but we do not all communicate effectively.  We must learn and have the desire to be effective.

It is a common misunderstanding that accountability and responsibility are the same concept.  If you look them up in contemporary dictionaries, they are sometimes called synonymous.  Yet, today’s supervisors cannot make the distinction and the result is both words become a disguise for blame.  They do not realize being held accountable is a separation from blame.  In a blame-oriented culture, employees feel helpless and victimized since blame rolls down to the lowest level the event will allow.  While accountability often moves in the opposite direction as leaders hold themselves accountable for the success or failure of their teams.

Trust is understated in organizations without skilled supervisors.  Employees are afraid to fail and consequently become paralyzed by fear in the workplace.  Unskilled supervisors make it worse by interpreting inaction as a lack of initiative on the part of the subordinate.  This compounds the lack of trust and the relationship deteriorates quickly.

The number one reason an employee resigns is the relationship they have with their direct supervisor.  The ability to find and develop supervision is a competitive advantage for successful organizations.  Developing supervisors to become leaders is essential.  We can be stubborn and ignore generational change, or we can prepare and adapt.  The capability (skills and knowledge) of front-line supervision is critical to long term success as the competitive landscape continues to change.