“I was never formally taught how to supervise. I learned from the supervisors I had in the past.”

I have heard this from many clients, friends, and colleagues. I’ve even said it myself a few times. I actually used to say that ‘I try to be the supervisor I wish I had.’

But winging it and trying to be a patchwork supervisor, I found over the years, isn’t good enough. Supervising with blinders on does not allow me to meet my employees where they are and give them what they need to be the best in their roles.

Here’s a quick story that illustrates my point. This experience kicked me right in the shin and made me open my eyes and see that HOW I supervise CANNOT be about me.

Years ago, I had an employee that told me she needed to be praised when she did a good job on a major project. I was like huh? I was dumbfounded, and to be honest, slightly annoyed.

So, I started to reflect on why I wasn’t the type of supervisor that gave out praise easily and why it annoyed me when employees needed it. I had taught myself over the years that doing a good job was enough and that I didn’t need to hear I was doing a good job. If I gave my best effort – that was enough. And I projected this attitude onto others, even though they needed a pat on the back or a thumbs up.

The root of my attitude was that I never received much praise growing up and my coping mechanism had spilled over into my adult life and work life. Ugh, why did this employee have to bring this up?

While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I am forever grateful to that employee for kicking me in the shin, okay and kicking me in the ego, and letting me see that my own personal baggage has NO PLACE in the workplace. I’m human, you’re human, and we’re going to make mistakes. That’s not the real problem. The problem is refusing to LEARN from those mistakes.

So here’s what I’ve learned about supervising others:

It’s not about me. It’s about their needs and motivation. As supervisors we’ve got to keep ourselves in check and not let our personal problems, issues, old wounds, opinions, etc. get in the way of supporting staff.

Even though this incident occurred almost 10 years ago, it still stands as a big lesson for me and one that forced me to change how I give positive feedback and growth feedback. I don’t know where that employee is today, but thank you for that kick in the shin!

“A wise person knows there is something to be learned from every day.”

~ Unknown

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

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