The olfactory nerve is one of a pair of nerves that are responsible for our sense of smell. Olfactory fatigue, also known as odor fatigue, is the temporary, normal inability to distinguish a particular odor after a prolonged exposure to that airborne compound. When it comes to body odor from absent or poor hygiene, individuals may be completely unaware of the strong environmental contribution they are making for others around them. While everyone else around this individual
gets to share the odor, the person responsible is completely oblivious to the stench. While certainly a necessity prior to modern hygiene standards, there are people today that do not realize or simply do not care about the aroma they exude for the rest of us. They cannot smell it so how can anyone else?
Similarly, most supervisors do not show up at work and consciously intend to be a bad supervisor. They must have developed some sort of leadership fatigue in order to
“not” realize the horrible impact they are making on everyone around them.
Having conducted thousands of classes over the years, I am convinced that most people know the basics of good supervision when they see it or are asked to describe it. Something else more complicated is causing what might be considered to be normal people to become such horrible supervisors.
If a subordinate is exposed to a bad supervisor, the initial reaction is obvious. Just like the olfactory nerve, a subordinate will immediately detect (sense) the supervisor as unusual or in some cases horrible. Over time however, the subordinate can become fatigued to the point that they no longer consider the behavior of the supervisor as abnormal. They learn to tolerate (or become fatigued) the yelling, screaming, and lack of consistency from the supervisor.
Additionally, the supervisor slowly becomes unaware of the negative impact he or she is providing the rest of the team in the same way. Eventually, the bad activities of the supervisor become habits. Once this occurs, the habits become the new normal and the result is a bad supervisor that is oblivious to the contribution they are making for everyone around them.
Evidence of this can easily be seen when asking individuals to list characteristics of good and bad supervision on
flip charts. Having trained many individuals, I notice that we are very consistent about what makes both good and bad supervision. I have never had an individual state that communicating, being fair, earning trust, or giving positive feedback are characteristics of bad supervisors. Likewise, I have never had anyone state that verbal abuse, favoritism, orinconsistencies are characteristics of good supervisors. So how is it going so wrong? If we know what it takes to be good and what it takes to be bad, why are there so many bad supervisors out there?
The “X” factor is context. Theory is one thing, while application of theory can be quite different. In the workplace there are many contextual situations that change our behavior. The most common is...
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