• Michael Najar, Ph.D

The 2 Biggest Mistakes Most New Supervisors Make

Congratulations, it's a big deal! You're a new supervisor and you should be proud of the recognition.  You have been entrusted to direct the work of others and leverage the power of scale.  Hopefully, working seamlessly as one unit to successfully achieve a common business goal.  Your new team has recognized your potential and has welcomed you with open arms, the world is a wonderful place, and life is more than you ever dreamed it to be. Wait, whaaat?

The reality is usually slightly different.  Unfortunately, the best plans for success are not so easily achieved. There are personalities to deal with, politics of business, bad attitudes, low engagement, and of course-— plain old overload while dealing with the expectations of your new role.  Your new team lacks trust in your ability and you will have to prove yourself to both them and your manager.

Well, regardless of where your situation falls within this spectrum, I have a couple of priceless, time tested, and amazingly simple tips to jump start your success as an emerging leader.  There are numerous insights available to assist new supervisors as they transition into a bigger role, but based on my research over the years there are arguably two dominant mistakes new supervisors often make that hinder progress toward achieving a high-performing team in the least amount of time.  

Mistake #1: Inability to "effectively" command and control.  Now this is a delicate subject which requires a little further explanation.  All too often new supervisors assume command and think they must rule with an iron fist to prove to everyone who is in charge. Domineering behavior for the sake of establishing power is never a successful path.  In fact, over confidence in setting agendas or establishing priorities is counterproductive to building a cohesive team.  On the other hand, engaging your new team members as if they are your new best friends is just as much, if not more, detrimental to your long-term success as a leader.

Tip #1: Strike the right balance to achieve results and gain respect of your team.  Look for opportunities to collaborate, and accept feedback, from your team on decisions which affect their area of responsibility.  Seek partnership and idea sharing in searching for improvements. Doing so will indicate you value them and their opinion.  The law of reciprocity suggests that by you extending the hand of trust first, your employee will naturally (perhaps subconsciously) look for ways to return that trust.  Also be sure to remember, to treat all employees, especially your subordinates, with respect and dignity.  The payoff, while not immediate and obvious, is exponentially valuable as time passes.  Bottom line— be fair, but professional (not necessarily firm).  Keep in mind the role you play and the expectation of the business.

Mistake #2: Inability to "effectively" delegate.  Again with that word "effectively."  You are a new supervisor now, however, I realize that in most cases, you are a "working" supervisor with your own daily responsibilities as well. One of the biggest challenges I have witnessed with new supervision is the reactive nature of trying to accomplish everything as quickly as possible, without pausing to look for improvements.  Let me share an example.  Suppose you are a new supervisor who has been recently promoted within a department.  Suppose before your promotion, your responsibilities included a complex technical task, that you were able to master over several years. And finally, let's suppose that your were the only "master" of the task on the team. You have now been promoted and have a new set of responsibilities.  However, the workload is demanding and your are constantly under pressure to be as productive as possible.  You can perform the so called "technical task" in a fraction of time it would take to train one of your subordinates, so you continue to do the "task" for now.  Imagine if the task took 8 hours every 2 weeks. Do the math and see how much time is committed to this task each year.  That's roughly 5 weeks of performing a task intended for an individual contributor.  I doubt the organization promoted you with the expectation that you should get paid more for doing the same work?  

Tip #2:  Think about the long-term effect of transitioning or "delegating" tasks that have an impact to the business on multiple levels.  Let's review the mistake above.  It is a natural tendency to think, that it will be much quicker if I just do it myself.  That is perhaps true if it were just one time.  However, the risk of continued waste (your time and your salary), as well as lost opportunity to develop your employees can become an exponential negative impact to your business process in a very short amount of time. Take the time and factor in the time and energy it will take to transition this "technical task" to an appropriate employee on your team and commit to it.  Although an effort initially, the payback long-term will be tremendous.  You also must consider the reward to the employee for developing new skills. 

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