Experts in Front Line Leadership

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Helping or Harping?

When front line supervisors and managers are asked to share some of the characteristics of the best manager or supervisor they had ever worked for,  they will include “supportive” on that list. One participant was even more emphatic – his best boss was focused on “helping” not “harping”.

A boss who is constantly critical and focuses on problems without being willing to provide support and suggestions is not helping. In fact they may be demotivating the team. The resulting decline of morale and attitude will hamper long term performance.

Can you be too helpful?

Being helpful and supportive does not mean sheltering your team from challenges and set backs. Some leaders take back tasks at the first sign that an individual is struggling instead of taking the role of coach. As a coach you job is to empathize with the struggles, ask questions to help the person discover a solution and encourage them to persevere. You can also share suggestions and how you dealt with a similar challenge in the past.

Is there a time for “harping”?

In our book Employees Not Doing What You Expect by Irwin and I describe one of the reasons employees don’t meet expectations is because of mixed signals from the boss. The manager or supervisor might describe his or her expectations and then never follow-up. Employees get the message that it really can’t be that important. In this case it can be helpful for the manager to follow-up to demonstrate the importance of the task. This kind of constructive “harping” sends the signal to employees that the standard of performance is higher. An effective leader follows up on what she says and applies positive and negative consequences when expectations are met or not met.

Action tips to being a helpful manager or supervisor

  • Clarify your expectations so that your employees can meet them.
  • Help employees find solutions for themselves.
  • Allow employees to learn from mistakes.
  • Backup the decisions of employees and coach them privately.
  • Coach by sharing personal stories, asking questions and challenging assumptions.

As a leader, focus on how you can support the people who work for you to achieve the expectations you have set. You might even be the manager or supervisor they think of when asked “Who is the best boss you have ever worked for?”

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