What dilemmas do new supervisors face? Part 2

by Sam on January 10, 2012

Don’t necessarily avoid the sharp edges. Occasionally they are essential to leadership. ~Donald Rumsfeld

As we saw in the Part 1 answer to this question, the transition from doing to leading often reveals “sharp edges”. Here are five more jagged encounters that new supervisors can anticipate.

6. Giving direction to people you once worked beside. If your new leadership assignment means that you’ll supervise former peers, there could be bumps in the road ahead. Those same peers may have breathed a sigh of relief when you got the job—saying things like, “Finally, one of us is our supervisor.” A short time later, they may mutter, “He’s just like them.” Their change of heart responds to the transformation they see in your behavior and your treatment of them. You once washed the windows along side them; now it’s your responsibility to make sure the windows get washed. One way to head off this displeasure is to talk with them early on about the new way your success is being measured. You might say something like, “It’s not always going to be easy for me to fulfill the requirement of holding others accountable, but you can be sure I’ll do it as professionally and as fairly as I know how.”

7. Fielding pot shots from coworkers jealous of your promotion. One of the worst former peers you’ll ever be asked to supervise is one who applied for the job you got or who feels more competent than you are to do it. Companies do best not to allow a rejected applicant for a leadership position to be supervised from that position by someone else who gets the job. But there’s not much you can do when thrust into such a situation except to be on guard for sabotage and to be as considerate as possible to the passed-over employee without compromising your position of authority.

8. Feeling guilty about asking others to do “dirty work”. While checking out at Costco, my wife Dianne overheard a cashier directed by her supervisor to close down the register after serving Dianne to clean the ladies bathroom. Dianne couldn’t help but express surprise to the cashier that she would be assigned such a job. The cashier’s immediate comeback was, “They treat us so well here that I would do just about anything they ask me to do.” It may not have been on the cashier job description to clean bathrooms, but the statement, “Treat people so well that they’ll gladly clean bathrooms” was on the supervisor’s. Well, not really, but you get the idea.

9. No longer being “one of the guys” or “one of the gals”. This may be a tough one for you, especially if socializing with your colleagues outside of work once played a big role in your life. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean that all such fraternizing needs to come to a sudden halt, but you’ll need to become selective with “extra-curricular” activities. The best advice is to go to fewer social gatherings (perhaps half of what you did before) and never be the last one to leave them. You’ll also want to set expectations upfront for what kind of work conversations will be off-limits for you to enter into at such events.

10. Self-doubt about how you look on a “horse”. John Peers of the Logical Machine Company once said, “You can’t lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” His point was that you’ll never achieve your full potential as a leader without complete confidence that you can do the job. Hopefully, you’ll gain such assurance over time and through experience in supervision. A central outcome of the Sam Deep Leadership Academy is to vaccinate emerging leaders with empowering faith in themselves.

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