For the past couple of days I have been in a professional development training on a supervision skills. I recently got a little promotion at work, and now have staff and volunteers who are my direct reports. So I appreciated the opportunity to get to work on my supervision skills. This blog post is kind of a brain dump of things I've been thinking about.
It's not the first time I've supervised in my long and weird career path. In the past I've supervised interns and managed team members for projects that I was responsible for. But supervising is not something I've had any formal training in, which I think is the norm for many business environments. People get promoted and are expected to be able to manage others without any preparation. And of course that means that a lot of people do a sucky job at supervising.
I would like to not suck.
Getting to step back and think about what it means to supervise and what it might look like to effectively manage others was an interesting and insightful experience. I learned several useful things at this training, including :
- finding my supervision style
- expressing my values as a supervisor
- setting the right tone with my direct reports
- how to supervise people you are friends with or former peers
Finding My Management Style
I've had a wide variety of managers over the years, some of whom were fantastic, others were just okay, and a couple that were just terrible. For me, the best manager is one that is able to support their direct reports in doing their best work, is able to encourage them to grow in their position and beyond, and can trouble-shoot problem issues before they become too serious.
One of the most useful exercises was figuring out what my own managing style is. From the quick assessment that we did, it indicated that I tend to manage with a "driving" style, i.e. more directive rather than expressive, telling more than asking. However I also fall back on more analytic and expressive modes of managing in stressful situations, at least according to this assessment.
Past leadership assessments that I've done have indicated that I'm much more "cold" and "task-oriented" rather than "warm" and "people-oriented" as a leader. The past few years I've worked on this, and I'm cognizant that this is something that is my natural fall-back in work situations. This style can work well in command-and-control structures like large bureaucracies. But in places where people have more freedom and agency in their work, this can limit my ability to lead and persuade others.
As one coach told me, I need to work on my ability to enlist and encourage.
My Management Values
One way of being my best self as as manager is being more explicit about my values at work. I'm working on developing a short list of what I see as my own values as they pertain to work and management. Some I'm thinking about:
- a strengths-based approach
- mutual respect
- entrepreneurship, experimentation
- start and end with the mission
- being fully present at work
- celebrating success
The idea is that you print those out and make them known to people that work under you. That creates transparency so people know what to expect from you. And it's an automatic accountability mechanism, since if I'm not following these principles others can call me on it. People can call you on your shit.
Practicing Tough Conversations
One of the best parts of the training was getting to practice challenging situations with other students. It's one thing to write down your management style, it's another to practice "onboarding" a new staff member and expressing to them your values in a way that seems genuine and convincing. And roleplaying having to apologize to a co-worker or conflict managing a work situation was both stressful and rewarding.
Like a lot of skills, until you actually practice them, you have no idea how you will do. I've never really thought of supervising as similar to dancing or playing tennis. But if course that makes sense. The difference is that mistakes you make have consequences for other people.
My big takeaway from the past two days is that effectively supervising someone is about co-creating a relationship, where the direct report gets the support and guidance they need to do their job well, and the supervisor gets the information he or she needs to ensure that work expectations are being met. It's not disimilar from other kinds of relationships like teacher-student , parent-child, or a couple. All of these take attention and work from all parties to be healthy and mutually beneficial.
I'm honestly looking forward to being a better manager.
[Dilbert cartoon embedded from Dilbert.com.]