Talent Development 15 Coaching Supervisors

November 1, 2020

Section 2.7 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Coaching. Section B reads, “Skill in coaching supervisors and managers on methods and approaches for supporting employee development.”

I have always had a keen interest in coaching of supervisors and managers. I believe their role is pivotal, and their situation is often challenging. Throughout my career, I spent roughly 40% of my time actually working with supervisors in groups and individually to develop and sharpen their skills.

Successful Supervisor Series

From 2016 to 2018 I wrote a series of 100 blog articles specifically aimed at creating more successful supervisors. I am sharing an index of the entire program here so you can view the topics covered. The index has a link to each article on my blog in case you may be interested in reading up on certain topics. Note: After you call up the document, you will need to click on “enable editing” at the top of the page in order to open the links below.

Use for Training

You may wish to select articles at random or as a function of your interest, or an alternative would be to view one article a day for 100 days. You could use the series as a training program for supervisors.

In that case, I recommend having periodic review sessions to have open discussion on the points that are made. There will likely be counter points to some of my ideas that apply to your situation.

Some examples relating to Employee Development

Most of this series deals with the development of the supervisors themselves, but many of the articles deal with supervisors supporting employee development. I will share links to 10 specific articles here as examples from the series:

9. Motivation

40. Engaging People

47. Coaching People on Money Problems

57. Building a High Performance Team

70. Reduce Drama

78. Trust and the Development of People

82. Trust Improves Productivity

88. Better Team Building

89. Repairing Damaged Trust

93. Creating Your Own Development Plan

I hope this information has been helpful to you. Best of luck on your journey toward outstanding Supervision and Leadership.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Successful Supervisor 23 – Delegation and Micromanagement

April 22, 2017

I have written on the topics of delegation and micromanagement before on this blog. In this article I will describe the issue from the point of a supervisor, because the caveats are even more critical in that arena.

It is normal, but not universal, that the supervisor of a work cell has a very deep understanding of the processes that are performed in her area. This situation is because a common path for an individual to become a supervisor is to work herself up from the shop floor as a result of her content knowledge of the processes.

She has worked in the area for many years and has shown some leadership ability and dedication to the organization, so when an opportunity arose she was promoted to supervisor.

A supervisor taking this common pathway is in a precarious position relative to the concepts of delegation and micromanagement. I will describe these issues separately and then discuss an antidote for both problems.


If you start with the premise that the supervisor knows the process at least as well as the people working for her, it is a challenge to delegate because she knows very well how the tasks should be performed. Her employees are often less experienced, so they will need some instruction, which will take time to accomplish.

Picture the logic going on in the head of the average supervisor as she contemplates delegating the task of making a widget to an inexperienced employee.

“I can spend the next three hours explaining to George how to do this job correctly and safely, but there is a good chance he will mess it up anyway because it is very tricky. Chances are I will need to come in and bail him out when he gets stuck, which will take me more time. I could do the job myself in a little over an hour and know it will be done correctly, so I am far better off just getting it done.”

Another issue with delegation is that the supervisor has a rigid picture of what the finished product needs to look like as a result of her history. She will not be amenable to creative solutions that work just as well, or maybe better, than the old way.

If someone comes up with an “improved” version of the function, it will appear to the supervisor as a problem to be resolved rather than a breakthrough to be embraced.

The natural tendency is for the supervisor to limit delegation for the above reasons. That practice stifles the growth of her employees and blocks new methods from being developed.


Since the supervisor knows full well how the job should be accomplished, she will be quick to intervene if an employee is not on the right track. She will insist that the employee use the standard process in every case and hover over the employee to ensure that happens.

We all know that the impact of micromanagement is highly negative in terms of motivation. We have experienced the exasperation of being asked to do something only to be guided every step of the way as to exactly how to do it.

That practice takes all the fun and initiative out of doing the job, and the employee grinds his teeth and is forced to comply with the instructions.

The unfortunate result is stagnation, because to reach excellence we must go well beyond compliance and achieve the full energy of everyone in the workforce.

In addition, the supervisor cannot possibly witness every step of every operation simply because she has many people reporting to her, so she becomes fragmented and frustrated herself even though she is trying to do things right. What a mess!

The Antidote

To reduce these problems, the wise supervisor leans less in the direction of a manager trying to force everyone into a compliant mold and more in the direction of a leader who empowers people to use their own brains.

She ensures that employees are trained on how to do the job safely and according to specifications. Then she needs to step back and give the employee some breathing room. Quite often the employee will discover a way to do the job faster and better than the supervisor could.

I recall one supervisor who had a penchant for micromanaging. One thoroughly frustrated employee brought in a fake pair of handcuffs and kept them in his work station.

When the supervisor came around and started to bark out orders for how to do the tasks, the employee would get out the handcuffs and put them on. He would say something like, “I will do whatever you force me to do, but I think if you take the cuffs off I will get a lot more done.”

The supervisor got the message rather well and changed her pattern. Of course such a direct approach might be viewed as insubordination to the supervisor, so I would not advise trying it.

If you are guilty of micromanaging more than you should, how can you tell? Look for clues in the body language of the people you are coaching. A stiffening of the facial muscles is an indication of stress.

Also, watch the hands; if you see the fingers clench into a semi fist posture when you suggest that the person try something, it is a good bet that person is feeling micromanaged.

Another easy way to tell if you are too intrusive with your suggestions is simply to ask the person. “Am I being too prescriptive here?” often will generate an honest reply, especially if you have not bitten off the person’s head the last few times he has opened up about his feelings or expressed an opinion.

You can also ask other people if you have a tendency to micromanage. Have the topic of micromanagement be on the agenda for group meetings and have an open discussion about the level of coaching you are giving. It may lead to healthy and valuable input.

When a supervisor does not delegate enough or tends to micromanage tasks, it sends a strong message that she does not trust her employees to do things right. That visible lack of trust will quickly break down a culture, and the work area will become much less productive.

To prevent this decay, she should take the slight risk and delegate tasks more freely. Also, she needs to avoid hovering over people to verify they are doing everything according to her paradigm. Taking these steps will enhance rather than squash employee engagement.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

Delegation and Micromanagement

July 9, 2016

The two concepts of delegation and micromanagement are related and make interesting topics to analyze and dissect. I think it is ironic that most leaders have difficulty doing enough delegating, but they seem to have no problem doing plenty of micromanaging.

Let’s take the concepts one at a time and then put them together to uncover some antidotes.

Why don’t leaders delegate more?

The simple answer is a combination of fear and laziness. The fear comes from the realization that if something important is delegated to an underling, it may not get done up to the standard that the leader would do himself. (Note: I will use male pronouns here to avoid the awkward “he or she” language throughout. Clearly the issues in this article are gender neutral.)

The laziness comes from the realization that to teach someone else how a task should be done is usually more time consuming than to just do it yourself.

A leader might reason that it is a better use of his time to get the task done and move on than to invest the time to explain the deliverables in great detail and then teach the underling how to accomplish the task, then wait for it to get done, and finally deal with the problems if the job is done poorly.

The result of not doing enough delegation is that people in the organization do not get developed; the leader is overstressed trying to do everything himself, which leads to low empowerment of the workforce and a grumpy boss. Also, the work product is continually accomplished through the leader’s paradigm, which may stifle more creative solutions lurking in the minds of the underlings.

Why do Leaders Micromanage so much?

Few things sap engagement and trust within workers as much as being micromanaged. When you are told what to do and then given explicit details about how to do it, all creativity and enthusiasm are snuffed out. Furthermore, you feel the boss does not trust you to do the job right, which is exactly the signal being sent to you.

Leaders who micromanage people are often not even aware they are doing it. They are really just trying to be helpful and prefer to call it “coaching.” Since they have a sincere desire to have things go “right” (according to their playbook), they invest in monitoring how things are progressing so they can make corrective suggestions early in the process when changes are easier to make.

If you are guilty of micromanaging more than you should, how can you tell?

Look for clues in the body language of the people you are coaching. A stiffening of the facial muscles is an indication of stress. Also, watch the hands; if you see the fingers clench into a semi fist posture when you suggest that the person try something, it is a good bet that person is feeling micromanaged.

Another easy way to tell if you are too intrusive with your suggestions is simply to ask the person. “Am I being too prescriptive here?” often will generate an honest reply, especially if you have not bitten off the person’s head the last few times he has opened up about his feelings or expressed an opinion.

You can also ask other people if you have a tendency to micromanage. Have the topic of micromanagement be on the agenda for group meetings and have an open discussion about the level of coaching you are giving. It may lead to healthy and valuable input.

Micromanagers are not well liked or well respected because they send signals that the workers are not trusted to do the work correctly without constant intervention. They sap the organization of vital enthusiasm and creativity.

You may not be aware how much micromanaging you are actually doing. It becomes a habit, and it feels like the right way to get things accomplished, yet in the end, it undermines the culture of trust and leads to low engagement.

Combining more delegation with less micromanagement

In the hubbub of everyday activities, it is easy for leaders to get on the wrong end of both conditions. They fail to delegate enough, and the things that are delegated are managed too closely. The remedy for these problems starts with awareness.

First, examine your own actions and ask yourself if you would be better off making some changes. If the answer is yes, then it is a simple matter of deciding, one case at a time, to reverse the logic. Consider an action you would normally do today and ask someone else to do it. Once the specification of deliverable is crystal clear and verified for understanding, back off on the coaching for how to do the job.

You can let the person know that you are always available to help out where there is a question, need, or desire, but you are not going to hover as much as you have historically done. Watch the body language when you say those words, and if you see a faint smile, you will know you are heading in the right direction.

If you are coaching other leaders who may have struggled with delegation and micromanagement, print out this article and give them each a copy of it, then have an open discussion someday as a “Lunch and Learn” session. It will be a very rich conversation.

Step out of your comfort zone when delegating, and trust that the task will be done well. You may be surprised that the quality of solutions made by empowered underlings is far better than you would do yourself.

Accept that on occasion you will not be thrilled with the solution, but the benefits of creating an empowered workforce far outweigh the small risk of having to do it over.

Exercise for you: Today, try to delegate more tasks to others, and make a special note of how you coach people to do their work in your organization. Try to be as objective as possible, so that you’re not fooling yourself. Make sure you are viewing your actions from the point of view of the workers rather than through your own filters. Ask yourself what would be the result if you were able to delegate more and scale back your micromanaging tendencies by about 50%.

Increasing your awareness of the tendency to micromanage is really the best defense against overusing this hurtful practice. You can improve not only your own productivity but also that of the entire organization by scaling back on your interventions and trusting others more. It is really just a bad habit, so it takes some real effort to change it.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

New Book in 2014 – Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change For more information go to http://www.astd.org/transition

Delegation and Trust

November 21, 2015

When Gordon Bethune became CEO of Continental Airlines in 1994, the company had gone through their second bankruptcy. The workers had been so abused by managers with so many rules, that they showed no initiative.

Using good leadership skills, Gordon showed more trust over the next few years and started to delegate more. At one point, he had all the policy manuals taken out to the parking lot and burned publicly.

Rather than relying on controlling rules, he established objectives and trusted the employees to do the right thing. The stock price went from $2 to over $50, and by the time Gordon left in 2004, Fortune Magazine ranked Continental as the Most Admired Global Airline.

By delegating more and trusting the employees, he turned around the company in just 10 years. After Gordon left, things fell apart again for Continental, and they were merged with United Airlines in 2012.

The lesson here is that performance can be turned around by great leadership, but that does not guarantee a rosy future if a weak leader follows.

The trick with delegation is to let go of the ropes in a way that sets up employees for success. Of course, there is always a risk that a delegated task will not be done to the satisfaction of the manager, but the upside in terms of allowing employees to use their creativity and energy to complete tasks dwarfs the risk that something bad will happen.

I am sure there were times when Gordon Bethune saw something done differently than he would have done it, and yet the end result was one of the more amazing corporate reversals in history.

Trust and delegation go hand in hand, because when you delegate something to another person you are demonstrating trust that the individual will do what is right.

The best way to build more trust in a relationship it to find ways to extend more trust to others.

Leaders who have a hard time delegating often use the excuse that they just want to be sure things are done the right way. Unfortunately the signal being sent to the workers is that they are not trusted to do the right thing, so the culture becomes one of apathy.

By taking the risk of delegating more tasks, leaders can foster an environment of higher trust.

Exercise for you: Today, keep track of the number of tasks that you do yourself and see what percentage might be delegated to other people if you truly trusted them to do the job right. You may be surprised at the amount of time you can gain by this practice and also the amount of employee engagement you can generate.

Here are six tips to implement more delegation in your sphere of influence.

Announce intention – Talk about the issue of delegation and let people know you would like to practice more if it. Ask that they suggest areas where they might enjoy doing a task currently done by you.

Take the risk – You will find that by letting go of the control, your performance almost always improves, sometimes dramatically.

Keep communication channels open – Avoid micromanaging delegated tasks, because that constitutes false delegation. Rather, stay interested and accessible. Keep track of the little opportunities to encourage and praise progress along the way.

Provide exposure – Let the people at higher levels see the great work being done by your subordinates. Promote their good progress. The senior executives will also view you in a more positive light for making the effort, which benefits your career.

Be flexible when things go wrong – You will never achieve 100% success with delegation, but 90% success and 10% opportunities to learn is an excellent ratio for progress in any organization.

Use your newly-found time well – An additional side benefit of delegating more is that you have the opportunity to do more strategic work yourself. You get to become more valuable to your organization when you are not tied up in details and are able to think at a higher level.

It is easy to make excuses for not delegating work to other individuals. Most of the excuses do not stand up in the light of analysis. They reveal a mindset of low trust that employees pick up on quickly.

Those leaders smart enough to let go, find the employees willing and able to do the job. Sure there is some risk involved, but the upside is so huge it is worth the risk.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517

Your “Stop Doing” List

August 16, 2014

BankruptFrom time to time, we all get overwhelmed with activities, and most of us turn to a “To Do” list to manage the priorities. There are several systems that help keep people organized and assist them on making the most of their time.

In this article, I suggest that having a specific “Stop Doing” list can be just as helpful at managing time as having a “To Do” list.

Time is Precious

Time is the most precious commodity we have. What makes something precious is comprised of two factors.

The thing must be of intrinsic value to us and it must be scarce. Diamonds and coal are chemically identical and both have intrinsic value to us, but diamonds are very difficult to find, so their value is infinitely higher.

Time has value to us because it is all we have to live with, and nobody can get more than 24/7 each day. Therefore, time has extremely high value: it is both important and scarce.

Numbers Game

Most professionals are in a perpetual state of overload. That is because in the pressure cooker of day to day activities, more items come onto the plate than can possibly be accomplished.

If you doubt that, just take a look at your e-mail inbox. In every meeting there are new action items to be accomplished and precious little time to do them. It is a habitual problem that leads to burnout and even death due to stress.

People watch the incoming texts and activities closely trying to manage the load. The common refrain is “I have no time to deal with that now.” They often forget to cull out the non-essential things that take up their time. Anything taken off the plate is a reason to celebrate.

Modeling Prioritization

Individuals who focus on stopping things show others that time utilization needs to be managed from both ends. Leaders are used to making tough decisions with budgets and other resources, but they sometimes fail to see how their most precious resource (their own time) is being squandered.

Those who manage time actively and vocally send a clear message to the entire organization that seconds really do count.

10 Tips to manage your “Stop Doing” List

1. Keep track of what you are doing.

If you have a mechanism to actually see how your time is being spent, you can manage it better. I like to think of colors.

When I am doing “green” things, it means I am using my time wisely. “Yellow” things have marginal value, and “red” items are really wasting my precious time. Just keep looking for the color. It can be a kind of game as you sit in a meeting and watch the air turn from green to red before your eyes.

2. Delegate more!

This has a dual benefit because often people are eager to help out if only given the chance. There is always some risk when delegating, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Learn the skill of good delegation and press yourself to apply it more than you currently do.

3. Finish things.

Don’t dabble in work. Be crisp with completing assignments so your inbox is clear for new items.

When something is completed, celebrate for a second because you now have that off the plate.

4. Brainstorm

Spend some brainstorming time with your inner circle cleaning house of useless activities.

5. Create a “Sacred Cow Pasture.”

This is a visual board where you post paradigms that have been broken where you no longer have to do what used to take up your time. It is refreshing to fill up a “Sacred Cow Pasture.”

Everybody benefits! For example it takes courage to admit we no longer need the quality report because our systems have reached a higher standard.

How about doing away with the “cost” meeting and substitute an efficient dashboard? The possibilities are endless.

6. Challenge everything.

Try a zero based approach to your day where you come in as if you were a new employee. Ask “why am I doing this and what could be done to eliminate the need for it.”

7. Handle your time like a budget.

Think of your task list as a fixed number of things – like say 50 things. In order to make room for a new activity, you must take at least one old activity off your prior list.

8. Reward people who bring up ideas for your “Stop Doing” list.

If you reinforce this behavior, you not only help yourself, you help the entire organization because everyone will get the bug to eliminate marginal activities.

9. Go on a “Safari”

Hunt down and kill at least 3 unnecessary activities. It can be a fun activity once you get into it.

10. Go away!

If you are not there to do things, they will get done just fine most of the time. Go out and visit some customers or attend a seminar for your own development.

While you are away, have an administrative person keep track of the things that you would have done if you were there. These are all items you can challenge in the future.

Your “Stop Doing” list is as important as your “To Do” list. Don’t neglect it.

Trust and Delegation

May 31, 2014

keysI work with MBA students every day, and most of them wish they were better at delegating. The problem is not confined to students; I have yet to meet a person who believes delegating is a bad thing to do.

Granted, it is possible overdo the technique and get into trouble, just as one can overdo any good thing, but for most of us, we would be far more effective if we did more delegation rather than less.

The reason for not delegating stems from each person’s desire to have things done well. We want things to be done the way we would do them, and are afraid that some other person will not live up to the standards we have for ourselves.

The excuse often given is “it is much easier to just do it myself than to try to get the other person to understand how I want it done and make sure he does it that way.” That thinking sounds like just being honest, but it is not a helpful way to think.

The fear is not just about getting the work done the “right” way. It is also a sociological fear that if we need to have the work redone, then we have made an enemy or at least have to do some coaching to calm the other person down.

The dread of having to deal with the consequences of a failed attempt and the rework involved is very real and makes us feel like the time is better spent just doing the job ourselves. That approach will also prevent the time pressure if there is an urgency to the task.

You cannot use the “Law of Leverage” to multiply your good influence in the world until you let go of the idea of perfection and grab onto the concept of “excellence by influence.”

By trusting other people to figure out the best way to do something and leaving them alone to do it “their way,” you unleash the power of creative thinking and initiative in other people. They will often surprise you by delivering work and solutions that are far better and arrive sooner than you would have expected.

To have subordinates perform as you wish, it is first important to ensure you have defined the desired outcome. Make sure they can recite the objective back to you before they go off to accomplish the task.

This is also a great time to verify they have the resources needed to accomplish the work. Many managers fail to provide the time, money, or other resources that will be needed to do the job and then become frustrated when an employee tries to improvise a suboptimal solution.

A typical problem is that we have a preconceived idea of what the ideal solution will resemble. When we see the result of the work done by a creative and turned-on individual, it just does not look like the solution we envisioned, so the “not invented here” syndrome takes over, and we send signals that the work is not good enough.

It is hard to admit that the solution we are presented with is, in many cases, a superior one. Here are some ideas that can help you lower this rejection reaction and be more accepting of the solutions others present.

1. Does it do the job?

In every task there are countless ways to achieve a result that actually does the job intended. When you see the work of another person, try to imagine that the solution you see is one of hundreds of alternatives, including the one you had in mind.

2. Did it help the other person grow? –

Our job as managers and leaders is not only to get everything done according to some standard. Our primary purpose is to help people grow into their powerful best, which means putting higher value on what the person is learning than on the particular solution to a specific task.

Even if the solution turns out to be flawed, it still is a success in terms of helping the person learn and grow.

3. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill? –

We often get so intense about how things are being perceived by our own superiors that we lose sight of the bigger picture. By showing high trust and enabling more people to leverage their skills, you are going to be perceived very well, even if there is an occasional slip.

4. Who is the judge for which is the best solution? –

Clearly if you have a preconceived idea of what the solution looks like, you are not in a position to be objective. You are already biased in the direction of your vision.

5. What kind of culture do you want? –

To have an engaged group, you need to empower people by giving them tasks and trusting them to use their initiative and creativity to find their own solutions. If you want everything done “your way,” you will end up getting what most organizations typically do, which is roughly 30% of the discretionary effort that is available in the workforce.

6. What are you really risking? –

When you stop and think about it, the risks involved are really quite small. Even if something does not work out, it will be of little consequence in a week or two. The risk is even lower if people are becoming more engaged in the work and more skilled over time through trial and error.

7. What is the best for you? –

Realizing that you have a choice to micromanage or not and choosing to be an empowering rather than stifling manager lets you sleep a lot better at night. That is a huge advantage and well worth having to endure a serviceable solution that is not exactly what you had in mind.

The benefits of good delegation are well documented. Few people would vote for less delegation by any manager, so why not learn to set good objectives and trust people to come up with good solutions?

You will find it is not as hard as you imagine, and your overall performance will go up dramatically as you leverage resources better.

Increase Span of Control

December 2, 2012

span of controlHow much span of control should a particular manager have? Years ago, I was taught that any manager who has more than 6 direct reports cannot do a proper job of supervising the individuals. On the other extreme, with a very flat organization and self directed work teams, it is possible for a manager to be directly responsible for over 100 people.

This article describes some of the issues when considering optimal span of control and also shares some key behaviors that allow managers to broaden their span of control without loss of effectiveness. This is helpful information for leaders because most organizations are heading in the direction of flatter structures.

An overarching question is why we call it “control” at all. The idea that one must have control over people in order to influence or coach them properly is outdated. I agree that the total entity needs to be in control so the goals of the organization are met and the customer is well served, but the individuals within the organization do not need to be controlled like marionettes in order to perform well.

Most of my professional work centers around the concept of trust. If an organization has a culture of high trust, then the individuals within it do not need to be controlled to be effective. If upper management is transparent with information so that all workers at all levels know the goals and are trusted or empowered to do the right thing, then the conventional hierarchy of: group leader, supervisor, manager, vice president, group vice president, president, and CEO is way more structure than is needed.

Let us look at eight manager behaviors that will allow one individual to provide the needed guidance to numerous other people.

Delegate well

When managers back off and let people figure out the best way to accomplish the tasks required to meet goals, less direct supervision is required. The opposite of delegating well is micromanaging the work of others. Few people I have met appreciate, or even tolerate, being micromanaged for very long. It is debilitating to motivation, and it drains the productivity from people.

Trust others

Most managers would like to see higher trust within their group, yet few managers realize the key to having more trust within the organization is to show more trust in the people within it. I hear all the time, “but what if my people are not worthy of being trusted.” There is a simple answer. If people are managed properly and are treated with respect and dignity, nearly all of them will be worthy of being trusted. So, a supervisor who cannot or will not trust the people in his or her group is really the person who needs to change, not the workers. If someone is really not worthy of being trusted, then why are they tolerated in the workforce at all?

Fewer Rules

Standard operating procedures are really helpful guidelines for employee actions. They are vital whether you are preparing a detailed battle plan or trying to run an error-free hospital. But operating procedures should not be confused with constraining rules on how to react to circumstances that arise on a daily basis. Managers who attempt to figure out every possible challenge and invent rules to cover them will find themselves frustrated.

You simply cannot anticipate all the things that can go wrong. Rather, it is better to have some broad operating principles and solid values but let people figure out how to react to each situation at hand. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos said, “We trust our employees to use their best judgment when dealing with each and every customer.” They do not need detailed procedures to figure out what is right.

Self Development

Much of the administrative and coaching energy that takes the time of managers involves the development of people. Many professionals have government mandated training requirements that cause supervisors to administer training classes for compliance reasons. Beyond the legal mandates, many organizations insist on forced career development discussions and detailed forms to fill out along with specific training hours per employee each year. These details are all well meaning efforts to bring out the best in people. What if we shifted the emphasis to recognize that nearly all people have an interest in doing the best they can?

Given the right encouragement and support, people are fully capable of figuring out how they can be more valuable to the organization in the future. The concepts of coaching and mentoring will help encourage employees who are timid or confused, but we do not need mandated programs that paint all employees with the same brush.

Think of it this way. You can mandate 40 hours of training for each employee each year, but you are not going to be successful at building capability into an employee who does not see value in training. It is far better to encourage employees to become involved in the extent and types of training they receive because they will learn much more. In turn, the organization will benefit much more as a result of employees using the new skills.

Better Mentoring

The power of mentoring is immense, yet the majority of corporate mentoring programs produce tepid results at best. Reason: the mentor selection process is usually done with a third party or a computer program creating the matches from lists of skills and interests of potential pairs. Since a great mentor relationship is based on a foundation of excellent personal chemistry, the number of perfect matches made by third parties will be low. Mentors and protégés go through the motions for some period of time, but they drift apart eventually due to a lack of reciprocal chemistry to keep the benefits coming. A far better approach is for the corporation or HR to encourage mentoring, but let the selection and administration be up to the individuals involved.

Reduce “Administriva”

Many of the supervisory functions that take time are really not necessary or at least could be made much more efficient. Have an audit of the forms and paperwork that managers are forced to fill out and vow to cut in by at least 50%. In most organizations that could be accomplished with no loss of vital information. Cut managers free to do the vital face to face coaching by reducing the Mickey Mouse forms and procedures that leave little time for communication, strategy, and reflection.

Improve Online Communication

It is a rare manager who does not feel buried in the avalanche of e-mail, texts, and social networking notes. The load is way too much to allow time for walking around the area to actually interface with people live. It is possible to reduce the online load significantly without losing vital information. Get help from someone who specializes in efficient online communication and create a culture where these tools are useful but not albatrosses.

Clean house

One reason why managers can only handle a narrow span of control is because there is usually some dead wood in any group. It is well known, by the Pareto Principle, that 20% of the individuals are going to take up 80% of the time of managers. Make sure to cull out the dead wood or disruptive individuals from the organization. That will create more time and allow the managers to serve more people better. Removing just one problem employee can make a huge difference in the entire atmosphere in a work group. It also shifts the balance of management attention from those who cause trouble to those who are doing great work. That will improve the quality of work-life for everyone.

Increasing the span of control is good for the efficiency of any organization. Following the eight tips above will shift the burden for most managers and allow them the time to have broader influence. This saves the organization money and provides a more rewarding environment in which managers can thrive.

Leadership Mentors

October 30, 2011

In my work, I consult with management and leader groups at all levels in organizations of all sizes and types. We normally think of each group as being unique. They have their own style, idiosyncrasies, type of work, environment, and goals, yet I have found most groups to have many similar aspects.

In any group, you will find a core of dedicated and cooperative individuals who are there to help and earn a living. They have basically the same hopes and dreams, although each one has his or her unique story to tell. Then you have a few superstars who are really trying to get the most out of every experience. They shine above the others in many ways. Finally you have the slackers and trouble makers. Even though their numbers are less than 10% of the population, these people take up roughly 80% of the time of their managers. They often feel that life has dealt them a rotten hand, when it is really their own attitude that is usually causing their misery.

When I meet with a new management team for the first time, the manager often tells me “we’re different here,” and yet when you consider the entire group, despite any other differences, they are usually similar to the pattern I described above. It takes me less than 5 minutes to scope out the distribution for that particular group. Usually it is very close to a normal distribution, but occasionally I will find a group that is either much better or much worse than the norm. For those outlier situations, there is often a relationship between how people are treated and how they react. If people are treated well by leaders, the group will be better than average. If people are misused by leaders, then you find a group with more problems.

The people in a dysfunctional team can be made more positive if the leader finds ways to improve his or her own skills. The good news is that it takes people only a short time to become more motivated. The transformation can take as little as six months. The leader would have culled out the cancerous elements of the team to allow the healthy cells to shine through and work up to potential. The leader would have set up expectations and gained the respect of everyone. Trust would be in evidence every day.

Reverse the situation and put a less-skilled leader in with a high performing team, and the team will lose its edge quickly. People will start acting as if they are playing games with each other, and trust will be reduced. In that environment, some problem individuals will quickly surface to bring down the average performance of the team.

I have seen the above pattern work in both directions so many times over the past 40 years of observation that I am convinced there is a causal relationship. If you look around and see a need for higher quality leaders in your organization, it is costing you plenty.

I believe there is a shortage of excellent leaders, but I also believe with the proper mentoring and support, a majority of professional people have the innate capabilities to become good, if not great, leaders. So what is missing? The real shortage is a lack of mentors for future leaders. Reason: most highly effective leaders are consumed with trying to optimize things in their current environment, and they neglect the activities that would develop other leaders.

If you are not happy with the number of excellent leaders in your organization, ask why there are not more leadership mentors. Get some help to train all leaders not only to be better at their function, but to step up to the challenge of growing other leaders for the future.