By David Lee

What are those “differences that make a difference” that separate mediocre bosses from great bosses? Reflecting on the feedback I’ve gotten over the years from employees and the research on what matters most, I pulled together several things that–if you’re serious about optimizing employee performance–you need to do. Some of these you can do with almost no extra time investment, others will require that you invest some time and energy. If you do, though, you will dramatically increase your ability to bring out the best in your people. Here are five things you can do that will help you be a “Super Supervisor”:

  1. Remember “Everything Matters” and Practice Mindfulness. Pay attention to each interaction, each decision, and each communication. This practice is often called Mindfulness. Rather than running on autopilot while you interact with others, thinking about all the things you have to do, or just “winging it” when making a decision that affects your people, focus completely on that interaction, decision, or communication. Consider the way you are doing it and its potential impact. Questions to ask include:
    • Is this how I would like to be treated?
    • How will the way I’m thinking about doing this or saying this affect morale, engagement, and trust?
    • Does this communicate respect?
  2. Get “Internal Customer” Feedback. Ask your people what you can do to be a better supervisor. Questions you can ask are:
    • The best supervisor you ever had, what did he or she do–and not do–to be a great supervisor?
    • What was the most meaningful recognition or praise you ever got? What made it so meaningful?
    • Can you tell me a time that you felt like a supervisor “blew it” in the way they dealt with you?
    • What do I do that gets in the way of you doing your job well?
    • What do I do that drives you crazy?
  3. Listen Better. The more you truly listen to what your people say, the more they will feel like you value and respect them, the less negativity you’ll have to deal with, the more they will care about what YOU have to say, and the more engaged they will be.
  4. Make It Safe to Speak Up. Besides asking your people for feedback, develop the communication skills that make it comfortable for them to respond honestly. Learn how to make it safe for your employees to speak honestly and openly about what bothers them. Remember, “Power may bring immunity from feedback…but not reality.”There is no such thing as Consequence Free Behavior. Just because employees don’t say to their boss, “It really makes me mad that you do such and such…” doesn’t mean there are no consequences for their boss engaging in that behavior. Passive-aggressive behaviors, spreading negativity, diminished engagement, unscheduled accidents, theft, turnover, and workers comp fraud are all ways employees express their unhappiness with how they are treated.

    It’s less costly to get them to talk about it. So, invest in training and coaching that will enable you to be a master at making it comfortable for people to speak honestly and openly with you.

  5. Act Like a Real Person, Not a Boss. Some supervisors express concern that if they “let their guard down” (translated: if they act and talk like a real person), their employees will try to take advantage of them or will lose respect for them. So, rather than just be themselves, they project a persona, almost like a bad actor from a city theatre overacting the role of “boss” in a play about the workplace. Interacting with employees in an overly formal, reserved, “always on” mode makes it difficult for people to relate to you and to bond to you.Conversely, the more genuine and authentic you are, the more your people will bond to you–i.e. the more they will care what you think about them and the more they will care about doing a great job for you. This doesn’t mean you need to be as unreserved as you would with your closest friends or spouse. It does mean the more you act like yourself and not some role–the boss–the greater your ability to lead people.

About the Author: David Lee is an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance. He is the author of Managing Employee Stress and Safety, as well as dozens of articles on employee and organizational performance that have been published in trade journals and books in North America, Asia, Europe, and Australia. For information on his programs and service, please visit