How to be a Good Supervisor (Without Really Trying)
Recently, I decided to re-enlist in the Air National Guard. After being in the military for 12 years, I had to make a really big decision: did I want to let it all go and start a real civilian life, or did I want to stay and "get my 20" so I can receive retirement money when I'm old and wrinkly? Every Airman (or Marine, or Soldier, or Seaman) has to think about this every time their enlistment is close to being up. One thing I think we don't factor in is that if we stay, we will essentially become some one's boss.
It's the way it goes. You stay, you rank up. That's what you are supposed to do. But, we tend to forget that when we rank up, that opens a space for new military personnel to come in. Those newbies need to be trained and guided. Guess who has to take care of that? You. Me. Mrs. Big Shot Sergeant. The funny thing is, this isn't something that only happens in the military. This happens in all workforces. When I worked in party planning and sales, I had to do the same thing. I was "senior" to someone and had to act accordingly. Along the way, I've realized some great tips on how to be a good supervisor and an even better worker.
- Keep stock of Morale. Whether you are in charge of a flight or platoon, or just a few administrative assistants, Morale is key. Since you expect your employees to work hard for you, they should also expect you to keep their working environment pleasant and productive. Luckily, this doesn't take much. Treat them to lunch in the office, take them out to dinner, or if you're brave enough, a few drinks at a local bar. Maybe invite them to a barbecue at your place one weekend. Also, "please" and "thank you" can do wonders when you have people working under you. You learned them in preschool for a reason.
- Reward progress. This is yet another way to motivate your employees and earn their respect. In the military, this is pretty easy to do: there is always some type of award that military personnel can be awarded for doing an excellent job. The only problem there is that the supervisors actually have to put in the paperwork. Believe it or not, they still tend to forget to do this for their troops. In the civilian world, there may not be actual awards, depending on where you work, but as the boss you can make them up. Call a weekly meeting and give a rundown of all the great things each worker had done that week. Create an "employee of the quarter" award and add incentives to it, like a paid day off, or a gift card to a local fancy shop or restaurant.
- Remember that employees don't "live" the job. Yes, these wonderful people that work for you do have lives outside of the business. Since you are the boss, you may dedicate a lot more time, but don't expect them to dedicate just as much or more. You are the boss for a reason; you have a salary that is meant for you to make the job a bigger part in your life. Your employees do not. Cut them some slack.
- Not hold grudges. Yes, I said it. I know it's going to be hard to act like you are older than 12, but this is key. If they decide that the job is not for them, and quit, so be it. If they want to cross-train into another AFSC (military job) give them your blessing. You creating a problem where there isn't one will only backfire on you. What if they do so well that one day they are hired to be YOUR boss? Or, in the military aspect of it, they decide that being an officer suits them more than being enlisted? That grudge will show all over your face the first time you have to salute them. Let it go before you're forced to.
- Encourage change. Don't be afraid to speak to your supervisors about something you feel could be done better in your workplace. Supervisors have a tendency to become complacent and sometimes don't see where things need to improve. You are the new eyes in the company so use them. Speak up.
- Be grateful. This one will be difficult to do after the "honeymoon phase" of having a new job wears off, but it is vital to keeping you, your fellow employees and your boss productive. "Please" and "thank you" are just as important to you as they are to your boss. They can move mountains and get you up that corporate/military/private sector ladder.
- Engage their bosses outside of work...if they ask. I'm a big believer in Morale, as I stated before, but I think that it goes both ways. A boss that does nice things for their employees is great, but if those employees either don't accept or appreciate these gestures, it turns the work place into an awkward space. If the boss invites you out for appetizers and drinks, go. If they offer to buy you lunch, accept it. But, don't in turn think that you have to ask THEM anywhere. The best way you can reciprocate the kindness your supervisor is showing is to do even better at work. It makes them look good to their bosses, and also makes you look good in their eyes. That's all you'll ever need to do.
Soon I'll be a Technical Sergeant in the Air Force, thus making me more of a "boss" than an "employee." I've already decided that the best way to handle this new appointment is to BE the change I want to see in my shop. It won't be difficult to do unless I make it so.