How do you select your up-and-coming supervisors? If you are like most leaders you look to the superworkers for your candidates.
The Superworker does what he or she is required to do and more. You can count on him to work autonomously. You can rely on her can-do mindset about her work. You notice that your superworkers have attracted followers among their peers - they answer questions and rally the troops on a daily basis.
The Superworker might be a young whippersnapper with great education but not an extensive amount of experience. You notice them because of their intellect and you see potential in them. Or your particular Superworker might be a long-time employee whose desirable traits are experience and loyalty to the company. They might not have the same educational credentials, but they have bootstrapped their way into a valuable level of expertise.
You might be considering tapping either of these two individuals on the shoulder for supervisory responsibility, but wait just a minute.
Supervisor vs. Team Leader
The Superworker is one who does the content of the job - the Supervisor's role is to help others do it. Sure, there are plenty of roles out there where the Supervisor is a player/coach combo, where they are doing the work alongside the people they lead. But consider whether the Supervisor role you are filling is a team leader or a true supervisor. The team leader doesn't have responsibility for hiring, disciplining, etc. They are solely accountable for the effective flow of work. Your informal leader can be effective here, because he or she has the interpersonal skills to attract people to the work.
A Supervisor will also handle hiring, firing, discipline and scheduling in most instances. The Supervisor comes with accompanying authority from the company, and this changes his or her relationship with the rest of the people on the work team. There are several likely outgrowths of this situation:
New Role Calls for Different Skills
- The person who used to be the post-work bar buddy might now be perceived as the long arm of the law, and therefore excluded from the informal relationships that they used to be part of.
- The change in the responsibilities in the new Supervisor's own mind can cause them to oversteer or be heavy handed in how they relate to their former peers.
- The new Supervisor can have a difficult time separating from the old comfortable technical tasks, and avoid the real supervisory portions of their new job description. So you don't really have a supervisor in function - only in name.
The new Supervisor needs more in the way of interpersonal capabilities, because they have several potentially difficult jobs to do:
- Separate themselves from their former peer group without alienating them so they can be effective in performance management. Perceived favoritism is one of the potential consequences of failure to separate, and that can cause legal problems for the company as well as performance problems in the department they supervise.
- Communication skills and process knowledge for setting expectations and providing performance feedback. The goal of performance feedback is to obtain the desired results , not to throw one's authority around.
- Results focus and context. The day to day operation is important, but the Supervisor benefits the company most when he or she can connect today's activity with the impact on the company's bottom line and overall strategic direction.
- Willingness to become the voice of management. A Supervisor spoils the soup when they give an instruction accompanied by a comment like "I know this is stupid, but management says we have to ......." This is an attempt to maintain rapport with the individual contributors for which the supervisor is responsibile, but it compromises his or her effectiveness as a leader representing the company's interests.
Some individuals come to the workplace with interpersonal skills that are observable, and they are probably some of the easier individuals to transition to the more interpersonally-focused role of supervisor. There are, of course, other qualifications to be considered beyond being a "nice guy", but human relations skills are really the combination of readily trainable behaviors and supporting habits of thought that are not as easy to instill. You can train them in skill areas and provide a supportive work climate, but THEY have to make the choice to develop the habits of thought that support the role in which they are placed.
If you are planning to take no chances and develop them for the Superworker to Supervisor role shift, recognize that it is probably the biggest single career change that an individual will make. It is to your advantage to start the process of preparing them before they are assigned to a Supervisor role. Transition to leadership is not the same as transformation into a leader. If you delay in helping them to come along, you will be subjecting the people that report to them to a process of supervisory trial and error. And who among you would like to be tried and erred upon until your boss gets it right? 'Nuff said.
For more than 20 years, Summit has assisted client companies by providing the interpersonal skill development, attitudinal development process, and goals and results focus that enable successful transition to Supervisor roles.