Do You Really Want to be a Supervisor?

Being a supervisor . . . managing others . . . leading a program staff or production team where you work is often rewarding and energizing. It provides an outlet for your creative passion, and can be a very real way to contribute to your organization and your local community. And of course it can also be difficult, challenging,, disappointing, and a major pain in the neck (or some other portion of your anatomy).

Many times we think becoming a supervisor is more or less expected; the next step on our career. Moving from an individual contributor or team member role to managing a group is often viewed as a right of passage in the organization. That’s great if being a manager is what you really want. But there are so many other ways to make a positive and substantial contribution to your organization.

Taking on a new project, developing a new product or process, taking the new team member under your wing and teaching them how to get things accomplished, looking for ways to exercise your sphere of influence (see: “It’s All About Choices“) to help your team and the organization move forward . . . all examples of “leading” without becoming a supervisor or manager in a more formal sense.

So when the opportunity appears to move into a management role, take the time to ask yourself if you really want to be a supervisor or if there are other ways you can contribute in your current role. Get a good handle on the expectations for supervisors in your organization. Managing a team or a unit isn’t for everyone; make sure it is for you before you step into that role.

Think about it.

Paul

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It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

360 Assessments Underway

Conducting a 360 assessment process is an important part of each ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, and the data-gathering is well underway for the 2015 Academy group.

We’re using a pair of excellent multi-rater assessments, the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory (MLPI) and the Professional Communications Inventory (PCI) – [click here for more info]. Each Academy participant selects the 360 that best fits their situation and provides us with a list of people they want to ask for feedback. The scores are provided only to the Academy participant and individual rater’s responses are reported in aggregate, so confidentiality is assured throughout the process.

At the March session the group will receive the results of the assessment process. For many this will be the first time they’ve received this kind of feedback, and the enthusiasm within the group is pretty high.

When is the last time you got really honest feedback on what you do (and don’t do) as a professional?

Stay tuned,

Paul

Becoming . . .

We are all a work in progress, don’t you think? One way or another we are in the process of becoming the person we will be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Too many times the process of becoming that person is left to random chance as we react to what is happening to us and around us.

Are you becoming the person you really want to be? If not, what does the person you really want to become actually look like? Self-knowledge builds self-awareness. Self-awareness helps us to understand our individual strengths, weaknesses, talents, and preferences. And that understanding can help us take a long view of our life. What we do today – the decisions we make, the choices we take, the forks in the road that will appear this week without us realizing that they are forks and choices – all of it will influence the “me” who we become tomorrow, next week, next year.

We all have choices every day. Choose wisely.

What will your choices be today? Who are you in the process of becoming? Food for thought.

Paul

What Did You Learn?

What did you learn from each of your previous bosses? Maybe you worked for one of those rare “natural” supervisors or managers. I’ve met a few, but they are few and far between. Most of us who have worked inside organizations have worked for a series of bosses. And we probably had no difficulty finding things about their style that bugged us, frustrated us, even made us angry from time to time.

But at the same time, looking at it from the rear view mirror, I bet you also learned some valuable lessons from each of them. I know I did. Some of those lessons were positives – things to emulate, copy, and modify to fit me. And some were negatives – things to not do when faced with a similar situation.

One of my first bosses was The Chief. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy and was the lead admin for the Supply Officer on my ship. He’d been in the Navy about 25 years and had risen steadily to become one of the senior people in his logistics specialty. Since our ship had one of the first on-board computers in the Navy (a Univac 1500 that took up a lot of room and was one of the few air-conditioned spaces on the ship), we were dealing with state-of-the art in some ways, and very old technology in others. Remember 10-part carbon paperwork?

From The Chief I learned precision and the importance of doing the job to the best of my ability. He also served as a role model of how to handle a difficult boss who had spent his entire career on shore duty. When we were at sea, the Supply Officer spent the whole time holed up in his cabin, alternately hollering at somebody over the ship’s phone and bouts of throwing up .

Some years later I worked for a boss I’ll call Sam. I was running an organization-wide system with multiple locations and nearly round-the-clock operations. From Sam I learned the value of building effective cross-departmental relationships and the wisdom of seeking multiple opinions and perspectives before making major decisions. My mid-20’s shoot-from-the-hip, get-it-done-now style sometimes backfired on me, particularly when I failed to identify key stakeholders and give them a “heads-up” regarding plans. Sam showed us all how to lead a diverse (and often highly competative) group of department heads in a positive direction by “communicating lavishly,” to use a favorite Max DePree quote. Sam knew where we were heading, kept us all in the loop, and ran interference with other senior leaders when necessary. Quiet leadership, practiced daily.

Those are just two of the people I learned from. What did you learn?

Think about what you’ve learned from some of the people you’ve worked for over the years. If you’d like to share a thought or two, that would be great. If not, at least think about it.

Adopting The Book

My recent post (Out of the Blue!) mentioned the adoption of “The 8 Essential Skills” by a large international law firm. As the sequence of orders (50, then 350, then 70 more) occured, we were initially focused on getting the books produced and making sure they were delivered on a timely basis. Fortunately, we had selected CreateSpace to produce our book “on demand” and that is what they do, and do well. Based on previous orders, my level of confidence about their capabilities was fairly high. Their track record was quite good with the few gliches we’d experienced in the past having been well-handled. The turnaround time from placing the order until the cartons showing up on the client’s loading dock was typcially about 10 days; pretty incredible.

As we got the production and shipping process moving along, two questions were of major interest to me:

  • How were they planning to use the book?

  • How did the firm “find” the book?

The firm is in the process of rolling out a 14 month developmental program for all of their supervisors and managers, and “The 8 Essential Skills” had been selected as the central text for that long-term program, along with their own internal resources. With all the long-term management development programs I’ve worked with over the years, hearing that was really gratifiying. It confirms and validates the central themes of “The 8 Essential Skills.”

My second question – how did they come to select this book? After all, there are hundreds, even thousands of other books on supervising and managing available. The answer was an indicator of how carefully this firm went about designing their program. First, they convened a task force and charged them with examining a wide variety of resources – materials that could be used in central and supplemental roles in their year-plus development program. Then the group compared what they found. One of the members downloaded the Kindle version of “8 Essential Skills”, liked it and showed it to several colleagues. Then, they ordered the printed version for task force members, who evaluated it individually. After aligning the Skills with their core competencies, they ordered copies for their 450+ supervisors and managers. That’s the kind of vetting process we think makes great sense, and I’m delighted to see the “8 Essential Skills” get such a thorough validation.

The firm kicked off their management development program this week. As you would expect, I’m looking forward to learning how that process went. Stay tuned!

A Great Simple App

I’ve been a fan of David Allen’s philosphy for more nearly 30 years. I think so much of his research, teaching, and writing on personal effectiveness that I’ve used it as a fundamental part of Managing Yourself (Skill 1) in The 8 Essential Skills. Beginning when I brought David to Kalamazoo and WMU’s Fetzer Center back in 1985, I’ve used and taught his ideas with our clients. In the 1980’s and afterward the state-of-the-art tool for effectively keeping track of all those commitments, tasks, projects, and information was the vaunted Time/Design “system.” Then came the Palm series of PDAs, which were sure an improvement in portability. Until the iPhone (and its offspring and clones) the Palm was the way to go.

Ever since the iPhone showed up, I’ve been looking for an App that will let me do what the Palm almost did; make simple lists to track the task and project part of my system. Then I found a brief story onTapTask, and decided to give it a try.

As I said in my review on the App Store, “I’ve bought, used, and discarded all the complex list-making Apps. Waiting in vain for a simple yet flexible ways to replicate my lists from the Time/Design-based loose-leaf “system.” Finally, along comes TapTask. The new iPad version works great without trying to be super-slick. No colors, only two font options, no complex multi-tap menus just to get something written down. This App just flat out “works.” . . . this fills a big hole in the App Store. Hat’s off to Sonny Fazio and the folks at Sonster Media. A Great App!” And with the iPad version it’s easy to have my lists sync via iCloud so both the iPhone and iPad are always up to date. I like it!

For those using other tools, please pardon the digression. For iPhone etc. users, Yea!