A Good Supervisor

Having spent 31 of my 32 years and 2 moths and 3 weeks of my career at Southern Illinois University as a supervisor of others…I have a few reflections on what I think comprises a good supervisor.  A valuable learning tool for me in my quest to be a good leader, was having worked for leaders who were not so good.


I remember beginning a new job, during my teenage years, where I was neither trained, or had the parameters of the job duties or expectations explained to me.  I simply had to judge what needed to be accomplished and, ‘wing it,’ as the the methodology in completing the tasks.  This, hands off, style of supervisor, left me often failing to perform what was expected of me…until I was reprimanded for not performing up to par.


Another employment position that I occupied, for nearly a year included being cursed at…on a regular basis.  Finally, I had enough and announced to my boss that I was quitting, because I was a human being and did not deserve to be cursed at…he apologized and bought me biscuits and gravy for breakfast.


As a manager I was informed by my supervisor that he lied about me on a regular basis to our Director, and that I should not worry….since he was my boss and he knew the truth of my good performance.  This supervisor explained to me that what ever went wrong in the department…he blamed me…because the Director could not believe that he had anything to do with mistakes.


Thus, when I was entrusted with supervisory duties…I desired to treat others like I wished, and wanted, to be treated.  I began with the philosophy that if I treated people right…excellent job performance would follow.  As the popular motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, said, ‘I really do not care how much you know…until I know how much you care…about me.’


I found that the best work performance takes place where people feel comfortable and happy and recognized for their efforts.  It does not all revolve around money.  Good pay is important..but equally important is a persons belief that their supervisor values them as a professional and a valuable member of the team.


The leaders that I have admired most in my life are those who had not forgotten where they came from.  A leader who realized that they were simply a member and a colleague of the group that they had been given the supervisory duties for.  Empathy is the most important component of a good supervisor.  Ms./Mr. Supervisor, do you realize that your colleagues are often smarter than you and have important skills that you do not posses?  Do you understand that when you lie to them…they know that you lied to them?


Communication is vital with your colleagues.  You can never communicate enough.  Your fellow workers can not realize what you expect unless you tell them.  How can others know what the mission or the changing of the mission entails if know one tells them?  If there are budget issues…explain the concerns.  If there are performance issues, inform your colleague what the specific issue is, and be certain that it is work performance related, and tell  the person exactly what changes you expect to ameliorate the discrepancy.


Speak to your colleagues with the universal language of humanity.  I have witnessed many leaders who expected their co-workers to fit into their box of expectations that was dictated by their, religion, politics or lifestyle.  Nothing is more damaging to clear and logical work performance.

You will never have a productive staff if you fail to train them.  Training is hard work.  Training is the first step in being an effective supervisor.  It takes as long as it takes.  People learn at different levels and speeds.  As long as consistent progress is being achieved, the training program is effective.


No one is perfect.  Were you perfect before you became a supervisor/manager/administrator?  Did you ever extend your break time?  Did you ever extend your lunch period?  Did you ever report for duty…ill?  Do you know what it is like to not be a 100% on the job?

During my long career as a supervisor/manager/administrator…I spoke to colleagues who were considering suicide.  I counseled, many friends who were battling mental illness.  Many lonely and depressed, and people who were going through divorce or cancer or the illness of a child…or the loss of a child….  These colleagues are valuable and important and vital to the operation.  They can not be discounted or marginalized for some faux standard that no one can meet or that came out of a manual or a…heartless…study!

‘Be friendly, but not familiar…be good, but not gullible.’

When I was a Building Custodian, which was a housekeeping crew leader, my greatest joy was for my Building Service Worker I’s to become what I was!  When a member of your staff understands that you are working for their promotion and their betterment…they will respond with loyalty to the organization and yeoman work toward the goals of excellence of the group.

My standard during my career was, If we err…let us err on the side of mercy.



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