How would you describe the ideal supervisor? As an employer, you might describe someone who gets consistently great work from his reports, is a good listener and negotiator, and always has his eye on deadlines and the bottom line. In reality, the ideal supervisor is a unicorn (a beautiful myth), but with support from company leaders, a struggling supervisor can get on a path toward success.
Successful supervisors get the job done three ways:
Successful supervisors clearly communicate standards for performance and behavior. When standards aren't met, they deal with problems quickly and consistently. They have systems for monitoring employees' work to make sure quality and quantity are acceptable. They spend time with employees and continually review their work. Successful supervisors also regularly ask employees three revealing questions:
Successful supervisors know that coaching begins and ends with questions. Through asking questions, they aim for two things:
When you're coaching adults, there's a huge difference between telling and asking. Grown-ups resist being told what to do. But asking questions can help a supervisor guide an employee to the right conclusion. Supervisors who are good coaches know that asking good questions is more important than knowing the answer.
Stewardship is about creating a positive work environment. A positive work environment is a combination of task completion, capable staff, and a healthy culture. Fair policies and consistent practices will help employees do their jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible. Stewardship is critical because employee satisfaction is linked to customer satisfaction. Supervisors who support education and training and competitive compensation packages are doing their part toward increasing employee satisfaction.
Since we looked at how a successful supervisor works, let's consider the "negative" space — what a supervisor is not. This will help deflate unrealistic expectations. A supervisor is not as powerful as you may think. A supervisor's power is limited, and she can't control anyone. A supervisor is not a mind reader or an oracle. She doesn't have all the answers. A supervisor is not necessarily the smartest person in the room or the most experienced person, either. In short, a supervisor is not separated from her imperfect-but-striving humanity! Asking her to be perfect is not good for anyone.
It's important to let struggling supervisors know that their scope of control begins and ends with themselves. Supervisors can't make subordinates do anything they don't want to do. But struggling supervisors must be reminded that their scope of influence includes everything and everyone. A choke hold of control is a false hope. Capacity to effect others and situations, on the other hand, is real and worth striving for.
Learn more about successful supervision at an upcoming HNI University workshop, "Manager and Supervisor Bootcamp." Click the button below to register for the event.