I've worked with a lot of supervisors over the past 15 years. While I know I haven't seen it all (who has?), I've seen a lot of good, bad, and even great leadership. Preparing for next week's Getting Started as a Supervisor workshop gave me an opportunity to reflect on the traits that made the great supervisors great.
Here's my list. I'd be happy to see what you'd add (or subtract) from the list!
Trait #1: Flexible Leadership
There isn't a universal leadership approach that works great for every employee. The best leaders understand their preferred leadership style and have enough self-awareness to known when their natural instincts aren't going to get the best results. We all want others to be better, but being a better you takes real talent, courage, and determination.
Trait #2: Vision
A recent study by The Center for Creative Leadership found that "inspiring commitment" is the most needed leadership skill in today's workplace. How many leaders do this? Employees spend waaaaay too much time and energy trying to assert their own agendas at work, but great things only happen when the boss and the employees are on the same page.
I'll never forget my first boss, Christie, who hired me to work at a clothing store when I was 16. She helped me understand that customers were always my priority and taking care of their needs would always lead to good things. I saw first hand how sales went up and shoplifting went down when everyone focused on the customer. Christie inspired the type of commitment that made her employees want to do well for her.
Trait #3: Organization
Great supervisors clearly define responsibilities among team members and organize work around each individual's strengths. Juan, a supervisor on a farm, realized that one of his team leaders had a green thumb while another team leader was great at motivating the team. At first, they both had the same job responsibilities and got mediocre results. One day, Juan decided to give his "green thumb" team leader more responsibility for scheduling - determining what work needed to be done and when. He gave his "motivation" team leader more responsibility for rallying the troops and keeping them on task. Juan immediately saw better results from his team and he also noticed the morale of both team leaders improved. They really liked their new responsibilities because they were playing to their strengths.
Trait #4: Delegation
The supervisor's paradox is "work hard now" or "work harder later". You can work hard now to delegate responsibilities and ensure your employees have the capabilities to do what you've asked them to do. Or, you can work harder later when there's more on your plate then there should be.
I have a former supervisor, Veronica, to thank for my ability to facilitate sexual harassment prevention training for my clients. When I first worked for Veronica, I was a Training Manager with very little HR experience. She took the time to instruct me on the finer points of sexual harassment prevention and help me develop an effective training program. Veronica was very busy with a lot of responsibilities, but her investment in me paid off in the long run because I was able to facilitate hours of training over the course of a year that she used to have to do.
Trait #5: Tell us how we are doing
One sure sign you might be working for a great supervisor is you always know where you and the team stand. Great supervisors constantly communicate with individuals and their entire team. They talk about what's going on, progress to goals, provide feedback on performance, and alert the team to any potential problems.
Sue is one of the best communicators I've worked with. Every time I'd visit her office I could count on each of her employees knowing how the team was doing, how they were doing individually, and what needed to be done to reach the team's goals. Bulletin boards were constantly updated with key data points along with personalized stories of outstanding performances. More importantly, there was an ongoing dialogue between Sue and her team that kept everyone up to date and motivated.