Successful Supervisor 54 – Plotting Your Future

November 26, 2017

Regardless of current position, every professional owns his or her future. Some people leave it up to fate or “the breaks” to figure out their pathway in life. That tendency is evident in all occupations, including supervisors.

In this article, I will explore why only a few supervisors take command of their forward path and offer some ideas that may be helpful at changing the pattern for those supervisors who want to move up.

Sometimes the role of Supervisor is a terminal role

One typical pathway to arrive in a position of supervisor is up from the ranks. This person has a great deal of process knowledge and has demonstrated dedication to the organization over a long period of time.

In addition, this individual has displayed some form of natural leadership characteristics. People within the crews seem to listen to what this person says and usually do what is suggested. This individual will often perform as a backfill for another supervisor who is out.

When conditions call for someone to be elevated to the supervisor position due to a retirement or termination, this individual is the natural and easy choice for the job.

Without a professional degree, she is not likely to be elevated into levels above supervisor and may not even want to move up further. She might be content to lead crews at the operational level.

In other cases, a person is brought into the organization with a professional degree with the understanding that gaining knowledge and seasoning as a leader will lead to higher positions in the organization. Sometimes these professionals can stay in a supervisory role for many years before moving on.

Let’s examine some situations where a worthy person might languish in the first line supervisor position far longer than necessary and why they do not take more control of their path forward. I will suggest some antidotes.

1. Becoming a Forgotten Soul

People who operate at the shop floor level daily tend to get caught up in the activities that are necessary to run the operation well. They become preoccupied with things like attendance issues or the struggle to have all people follow the stated rules (such as length of breaks).

As they work to survive on a daily basis and put off seeking longer term goals, their exposure at the higher levels is less, and they may be taken for granted or forgotten by higher management.

Often the performance goal line for supervisors can be moved from year to year. If a supervisor performs well during the current year, then the goals for next year may be increased in a never ending cycle of continuous improvement and higher expectations.

In that environment it is hard to step back and plot a pathway to a better existence, so some supervisors remain in the position longer than they really want to.

If you are in this position, the antidote is to put a priority on your long term goals and take the time to figure out where you wish to go next in your career.

This planning should include your supervisor and some concrete positive steps to take in the direction so you are ready to move up when a slot opens up. Try to include one or two development courses a year that will prepare you to advance.

2. Getting too embroiled in the turmoil

The role of supervisor is extremely challenging, even in the best organizations. Hourly people test the supervisor’s ability to maintain control on a daily basis.

It is important to establish a pleasant work environment where the workers are both empowered and engaged in the job, but inevitably the supervisor needs to play the role of enforcer in order to maintain control.

This tension between the ideal state and reality creates a kind of turmoil where the supervisor is compelled to be unpopular at times. In fact, it is a mistake to have an objective to be popular all of the time. It means the supervisor is weak and lets the employees abuse the rules to make life easier.

On the flip side, some supervisors revert to a command and control atmosphere where the workers will find ways to subvert the rules in ways that cannot easily be detected.

Some workers will become openly hostile when the supervisor tries to gain control of their behaviors. She will often spend inordinate amounts of time trying to deal with a few troublemakers while the more docile workers watch with amusement.

If you can relate to these symptoms, the antidote is to be both hard and soft at the same time. Show people you care about them personally, but stress that the organization requires that people follow the rules, and that you intend to have that happen.

In the crucible of trying to make the best decisions today, it is easy to lose sight of the longer term objective instead of continually seeking to leverage a positive reputation for performance into a pathway to the future. The cure is to keep the future in mind while striving to make excellent decisions today.

3. Getting a bad reputation

The role of a supervisor is like a juggling contest trying to balance all the needs of the people who report to her while simultaneously turning in impressive performance numbers.

Many supervisors fail to get the right balance and either appear to lose control or have sabotage crop up. Upper management sees only the result of the chaos and may not be sympathetic to the daily plight of the supervisor.

The antidote here is to manage your reputation with upper management. That is a tall order because of the balancing act previously mentioned. Since your reputation is mostly what people say about you when you are not present, it is necessary to be an expert at reading body language.

You can often learn more by watching your superiors than by what they tell you. Learn to be alert to signals that something has soured your reputation and find out what it is. Often the damage can be mitigated if you are aware of it.

4. Operating outside of the Supervisor’s control

There are a number of situations where the path to higher positions appears to be blocked, at least temporarily. Sometimes there is not much a supervisor can do but continue to shine in her role and be patient.

The politics of moving up in the organization can include things that are not easily understood, such as diversity issues or other forces that can impact organizational choices.

5. Failing to plan

Every person should have a plan for his or her life. I believe in setting aside a day each year to assess where I am and plot my own future. This simple practice has made a huge difference in my life, and it will do the same for anyone who expends the energy to do it.

The magic lies in setting aside the time to actually do the exercise. If you want to see a template for how it works for me, here is the URL for my Renewal Article  https://thetrustambassador.com/2010/12/29/renewal/.

No matter your situation, take the time to invest in your own future and do not be content to just do your best in your current role. We all need to grow and become more valuable to our organization. That is a formula for getting ahead in life.

Bottom line: Focus on the Next Step

The point of this article is to encourage supervisors to not get so focused on surviving the vicissitudes of current business that you neglect your path forward. Use the ideas above to keep an eye on your future every day. Do everything with a purpose to enhance your path toward your next step in your career.

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


Magic

November 18, 2012

In my speaking, consulting, and teaching activities, I use magic illusions to create zest for the topics being discussed. People enjoy the mental break from content to some kind of visual stimulus. In every four hour block of content, I always include at least one illusion. Then I can get back to the content with a fresh audience with clear heads and full attention. The tricks are professional purchased bits of technology that fit the topic being discussed.

For example, when discussing trust, I have an illusion where I put a nickel that has been marked by an observer in a small enclosed wooden box and let people verify it is in there. Then I set the box down and do not touch it again. Immediately, I produce a smaller wooden box with a lock on it and set it beside the box with the nickel in it. We can verify that the nickel is still in the original box, if desired. Then, without touching either box, I dangle a set of keys over both boxes in sequence while saying, “remember, the key to obtaining better performance is trust. Now I am going to reverse the location of the nickel by just dangling the keys over both boxes, remember that trust is the key.” Without touching either box, I hand the keys to an observer who opens the locked box to reveal the marked nickel. Stunned, the observer will immediately grab the original box and open it to reveal that the nickel is indeed gone. I explain the link to trust is that I have to trust my system to always work perfectly or the illusion will not work. Trust always involves risk, and I take a risk every time I do an illusion that it will not work or that the method will be detected.

Illusions help spice up any presentation because they create a mystery as to how the trick is done. Of course, like all magicians, I do not reveal how it is done, only leave people to puzzle over it. They know what we started with, and they can clearly see what we have at the end. They can also inspect the physical props to verify they are genuine. It is the process in the middle that provides the magic. This is similar to numerous processes in the work environment. The magic is in the process, and if we know our process well, then seemingly impossible things can happen on a regular basis.

For any organization, the magic that creates better performance is always based on trust. Where trust is low or missing, any organization will sputter and fume, but not run smoothly. When an organization decides to become serious about creating the benefits of high trust, it is exactly the same magic as some of the illusions. Something happens, and the outcome is totally different from what is expected, and it is a wonderful surprise.

There are many groups and individuals who help organizations move toward a culture of higher trust. I am one of them. My suggestion, if you are having problems meeting the ever-growing list of goals for performance, is to engage with a practitioner in your part of the world and have him or her describe the track record for the kind of trust enhancement work he or she does. It is invariably a profitable investment.

A tip for presenters:

I recommend the use of magic to all professional presenters who want to get future bookings. The process involves building up a supply of numerous illusions, so you have one that can fit most circumstances. Then you just select the correct illusion for a particular program and use it.

Most cities have a magic shop with many of the common tricks, but I use a specialty shop that is run by a professional magician. He has access to the little known and more baffling illusions. Of course, these tricks are expensive, in some cases, so you need to build up your stock over several years. I now have over 40 great illusions that I take care of and use regularly in my programs. They really help spice up my programs.


Mentor Power

July 29, 2012

If you do not have at least one active mentor, you are missing a lot. In my experience, having a strong mentor at work made a huge difference in my career. Even in my ripening old age, I am still gaining benefits from the lessons and ideas planted in me by my mentor when I was younger.

There are obvious benefits of having a mentor in an organization.

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster

2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.

3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles than yours.

4. A mentor cleans up after you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.

5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you when you need it.

6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past so you can avoid them.

7. A mentor operates as a sounding board for ideas and methods.

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That is because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process. The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities. After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people. It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach. It is pretty obvious how the protégé benefits in a mentor relationship, but how does the mentor gain from it?

Mentors gain significantly in the following ways:

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.

2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.

3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.

5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.

6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.