First time supervisors may find challenges difficult to handle. This is especially true if a new supervisor came from the ranks and would be supervising his or her former colleagues. However, here are some tips for success:
1) Start slow. You don’t have to prove yourself right away, though you may find some subordinates who would test you and your limit. Learn the dynamics of the new position and slowly define your leadership style.
2) Try not to please everybody. Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Remember those who will try to test you? They will see if you could bend some rules for old time’s sake (such as longer lunch, or coming in late, etc).
3) It is okay to put your foot down. Sometimes the team needs to see a stern leader depending on the situation. But, if you need to really put your foot down, don’t be afraid to do so.
4) Build genuine relationships. One thing subordinates would like to see is an accessible boss. You may always say in your meetings that you have an open-door policy, but if you don’t initiate that bridge, no one would ever come through your doors. One thing I’ve always done in all my jobs was to visit with my team throughout the day especially when it’s not busy. I always make it a point to go around and talk to my team. Conversations are mostly on a personal level.
5) Be dependable. Not because you are a supervisor, you won’t have to get your hands dirty. One of the pitfalls of leadership is the alibi of short-staffed. I’ve seen many supervisors who would deny much needed time off requests of their subordinates because they are short-staffed. Remember that you also have a pair of hands. When I was the Assistant Manager at a bank, I had my own drawer, so I could always be a teller when needed. Sometimes I would be the sole opening teller. I would give people their lunch by relieving them at their stations. I’ve done the same at the casino. The team needs to know that they have a boss, whom they can depend on. I always tell my team to put me to work when and where they need me to. Front-line customer service is a priority.
6) Tough conversations are inevitable. Eventually, you will need to have these whether reprimanding an employee or, worse, terminating their employment. Learn the basic rules in these, so you won’t get caught unprepared when an employee starts to play around with your own emotions.
7) Tough conversations with your own boss are also inevitable. Don’t get discouraged if you are corrected by your boss. You are not expected to know everything and take these as learning opportunities. Sometimes our bosses can come too strong, but just listen to the real message that they want to impart.
8) Communicate! Always communicate what you expect your team to accomplish and what they can expect from you. This can be on a daily basis. If you are going to be busy in your office to get a pressing project done, let them know. If you need help on something, let them know. If there’s good news, share with the team and celebrate with them.
9) Don’t be too quick to make a decision. This is one thing I have learned as a bingo manager. Gather all the information needed by asking around, before making a decision. Look for collaborative statements. Look for dissenting opinions. Make sure you have enough information in your possession to cover yourself should you need to explain why you made such a decision.
10) Leadership is a continuing chrysalis. Don’t let problems and challenges discourage you. Remember that many successful managers and CEOs have gone through the same or even worse problems during their first supervisory roles. These problems will become learning phases, so you will know what to do next time.
My wife, being a first time Lead Petty Officer at her new command, has had triple back-to-back issues with her sailors who broke the rules this past weekend. She was getting discouraged. I reminded her of the time we were here in Japan in 2008 when a sailor murdered a taxi driver (who was caught by one of my employees at the bank at that time). I reminded her that the US Ambassador in Japan, the Admirals and other high-ranking officials had to deal with it by apologizing to the family and to the mayor of Yokosuka. They did this by bowing and by offering gifts. Just imagine how huge of an ego each of them had to swallow in order to do this when it’s not even their fault?
The lesson I wanted her to learn is that we all have our own shares of responsibilities based on our positions. People in higher offices have greater responsibilities and even far greater ways of dealing with problems. As a new supervisor, take all the lessons you can learn, so that you can build yourself up to greater responsibilities as you move up the ladder. Then, you will know that you’ve had worse before and future problems will be easy to deal with. Moreover, when you become a manager you will also know exactly what your supervisors feel, and how to help and support them.
As butterflies go through the long process of chrysalis, or chicks have to break through the hard eggshells to make them strong, so is leadership. The events, people, responsibilities and challenges help shape your style to make you successful.