By Larry Wenger

For many supervisors, their relationship with people who work for them could be a lot better. A recent study by faculty members at the University of Florida said that more than half of the employees found their supervisors untrustworthy, not good role models and too free to share confidential information. This is indeed a severe indictment. Poor supervision is often seen as a factor in high turnover, and increasingly employers are holding supervisors accountable for turnover amongst their direct reports.

Supervision is about nurturing employees. It’s about being committed to making them successful rather than waiting for them to make a mistake. Supervisors need to have a clear and specific idea of how we can support the individuals who work for us. Just as we have a specific plan to maintain a service or process, good supervision requires a road map to get us where we want to get.

Supervisors are responsible for technical skills and attitudes or habits.

Generally speaking supervisors are better at dealing with technical skills than they are with habits and attitudes; that is why habits and attitudes are responsible for more terminations than the technical skills of the job. Which takes us to the Ten Commandments…since if followed, the supervisor will be more successful at changing attitudes and habits.

  1. Be organized. Don’t bring your employee into a cluttered office. Expect the employee to have an agenda, to have done some preparation for the supervisory conference, but you should prepare as well.
  2. Manage yourself. Model the behavior you expect to see from your employee. Handle your own responsibilities well.
  3. Acknowledge good work. Regularly and often. No employee has ever complained that their boss compliments them too much. Compliments feel good.
  4. Be positive and optimistic. Give your employees the confidence that things will work out; give them a reason to believe that plans will lead to success. Describe strengths as well as weaknesses.
  5. Document your discussions. Describe the behavior you want from the employee both verbally and in writing. Track progress and make note of it. This will save you a lot of time and eliminates surprises when it comes to doing the annual review.
  6. Have a respectful environment for supervision sessions. Don’t take phone calls during a supervisory conference, except for true emergencies. Put a do-not-disturb sign on your door and make sure your conversations are held in private. And while we are talking about respect, don’t forget to remain objective and non-judgmental.
  7. Refer often to the mission and goals of the organization. Make sure that the employee knows exactly what to do in his/her own work situation to contribute to those goals.
  8. Demonstrate your own commitment to learning and to improving your own performance. Don’t expect your employees to find time to go to training if you can’t seem to break away for some time for personal growth. Be willing to admit your own mistakes and areas in which you need to improve.
  9. Be fair, but honest. Be prepared to speak clearly about areas of the employee’s performance that must improve; don’t use vague language. Be behaviorally specific in terms of the problem and the solution as well as the time frame for expected improvement. One can be specific without being judgmental of the person receiving the feedback.
  10. Get to know the employee, what motivates them, what some of their personal interests are, what their goals are for their personal and professional future. Be prepared to share some of your own as well. This develops the bond between you and your employee, enables better planning for the future and adds some zest to your work together.

As a supervisor, you must recognize that your job now requires that you help the company achieve their goals through the cooperation of other people. You may have been really good at making clay pots, but that is not your job now. Instead of the technical skills that were required in making those pots, you now need the people skills which build loyalty and motivation. As Dwight Eisenhower is quoted as saying, “Leadership (including supervision) is about getting other people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it that way.”

Do your supervisors really supervise or just collect a bigger paycheck? We can develop the skills of supervisors; they can learn to be better supervisors. Subscribe to our newsletter to learn more about what we do. Click on the link below to subscribe.
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About the Author:

Larry Wenger is a graduate of the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Kansas. Larry spent forty years as a human service leader and helped develop programs for children and adults in the U.S., Canada and Guatemala. In 2004, he founded the Workforce Performance Group which helps non-profits, small businesses and associations develop their leadership capacity. Since 2004, about 40 organizations and 2500 staff have been involved in Larry’s workshops. Larry is married and the father of three children and grandfather to four. In his spare time, Larry likes to be around the water and sailboats. During 2009 he plans to build his second sailboat. He is registered with LinkedIn, Facebook and has a video on YouTube entitled “Preparing Leaders.” In addition to his on-site leadership development work, he will be producing a self-study leadership workbook in early 2009. For more information, please visit his website: