I remember my first supervisory job back when I was 22 years old, supervising a group of peers my own age and five people who were many years more senior than I (and many of them had previous management experience). Partly based on a fear of making mistakes and an overactive ego/bravado I made many of the errors you see below. I remember being overly directive, flippant, sarcastic and at the same time overly sensitive to what the team thought of me. Now 25 years later I wish I could go back in time with the knowledge and experience gained – things would be different!
Mistake #1: Worrying too much about what people think about you
Many first time leaders want their former colleagues to still think of them as a friend. By being too easy going there can be a tendency to let productivity decline and for the employees to take advantage of their new boss. The solution is to anticipate this could happen and remain friendly and approachable while communicating clear expectations around output, quality and safety. Learn to be comfortable saying “no” and establishing boundaries around decisions at work and friendships outside of work.
Mistake #2: Being too tough, or immature or disrespectful
Almost the opposite of mistake number one, some new leaders let their perceived new power go to their head. They like reminding their former co-workers that they are in charge. They rub in the fact that they can take it easy while making the team work hard. Often the new leader will make inappropriate comments thinking he or she is funny, when in reality it grates on the team. The new leader will learn the hard way that employees can make or break them – they can make the leader look like a genius or a fool. The solution is to focus on leading by example, use less sarcasm and treat people with respect. Employees respect a leader who is humble and competent.
Mistake #3: Blaming management and HR without taking ownership
Because the newly promoted front line supervisor is so focused on maintaining positive relationships with his or her team it can be tempting to distance themselves from management. Saying, “The plant manager said we need to…” or “HR said that…” fails to resonate with employees. The work team knows that the supervisor is supposed to be part of the management team. Therefore the respect of the workers towards the supervisor goes down when the supervisor pretends to not be part of the management team. The solution is to deliver information directly without pretending to distance oneself from the company message. It doesn’t mean that the supervisor has to agree with the policy or procedure; it means that the supervisor is responsible for communicating the information and ensuring employees are compliant. To help supervisors do their job, management should explain changes more fully including the rationale so that supervisors can present this to the workers.
Mistake #4: Giving and accepting excuses
The difference between a reason and an excuse is that a reason pinpoints accountability while an excuse diffuses accountability. A supervisor can be justified in saying, “The reason production was reduced is because of ongoing maintenance issues on machine number three.” If instead the supervisor (or employee) says, “We aren’t the only shift that struggled to make the numbers,” they are admitting blame without taking accountability for their own performance. Management knows that problems do happen. What all leaders want and expect is that each person is willing to take ownership of the problem, investigate to narrow down the cause and take action to remedy the situation.
Mistake #5: Not confronting unacceptable behavior and performance
A newly promoted supervisor will inevitably be faced with an employee who either behaves in an unacceptable manner or whose performance is below expectations. Even though the supervisor might hope that the situation will remedy itself, it rarely does. It might be surprising to know that many employees are not self-aware that their behavior or performance is unacceptable. The solution is to confront unacceptable behavior and performance quickly and calmly. Supervisors should accept the fact that no one likes receiving corrective feedback. So instead of worrying too much about the reaction, focus on the fact that in most cases the behavior and performance will improve after the conversation occurs.
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