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Don’t fall into this new supervisor trap

Business Meeting: Professional Successful Team; Managing DirectoAbout a year and a half ago, I did a short series of blog posts on the common mistakes made by first-time leaders.  I was reminded of those just recently when working with a group of relatively new supervisors at a client organization.  This time however, a couple of additional questions came up during these training programs that I thought would be worthwhile to address in my two blog posts this week.

Here is the first question from several of my participants:

I recently became the new supervisor of a 12-person team.  My team members have a variety of responsibilities, and I just don’t know how I am going to learn all their jobs.  How am I going to learn everything?

The answer to this question is: You’re not, at least not to the degree that you might think!

It’s not your job to do your employees’ jobs

As a leader, it is not your job to be able to do your employees’ jobs; in other words, you can’t fill in for them if one of them is absent.  But … it is your responsibility to understand what your employees do, how their roles fit into the big picture.

Here’s what you should do instead

I often say to new supervisors, within the first two months of your new role, make the time to meet with each of your employees individually to ask them to explain what they do.  Ask them what the roadblocks are to them getting their jobs done  Ask them what they think could make their jobs easier and more effective.  Let them tell you what the problems are with existing work processes, and how they can be fixed.  Truth is, your staff are experts at their jobs, not you.  And you shouldn’t have to be.  Your role as a new supervisor is not to do your employees’ jobs, it is to facilitate them getting their work done.  Think of your responsibility as oiling the machinery, not running it.

Well, what do you think?  In the spirit of full disclosure, I got a fair amount of “flak” from this group of new supervisors when I gave this answer.  Many of them were of the opinion that they should have the skills to “fill in” when one of their staff was absent.  I stand behind my answer though – it is not physically possible to be “cross-trained” in all aspects of each of your employees’ responsibilities – your role is to understand the big picture and take on the more strategic tasks of making sure that there are co-workers who can stand in for critical duties should someone be absent.  But I’d love to hear your perspective and rationale behind it.  Please share by commenting below.

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