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Developing Supervisors
A Person Who Feels Appreciated will Always do More Than Expected.

About two thirds of American employees would forgo a pay raise if their company did this one thing. What is it?

  • Provide more vacation?
  • Increase benefits?
  • Hold weekly happy hours?

No, no, and no, it’s none of those things. 65% of employees say getting rid of their boss would make them happier than a salary increase. From that statistic we can infer that only about 35% of staff supervisors are very good at their job.

Many leaders find that supervising staff is the most difficult part of their job. And working with people certainly can be challenging for many reasons. 

  • People are all different – one size doesn’t fit all
  • People have varying degrees of professionalism and work ethic
  • People have lives and baggage they bring to work
  • People have opinions and minds of their own

It’s no wonder that supervisors struggle! Add to that the fact that in the role of supervisor you need to present yourself as an authority. A leader. And aren’t leaders supposed to have all the answers? Not necessarily. And that’s the topic of today’s article. 

It all Starts with Developing Good Supervisors

Having spent much of my career in the nonprofit sector, I can say without hesitation that I didn’t always do a good job of developing supervisors. On at least one occasion I have hired a new director, shown them to their office, gave them their list of direct-reports and sent them off to sink or swim. When you supervise people for a living, sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s a skill people need to be taught. 

Forgetting, not taking the time, or not thinking it’s necessary to train staff on how to supervise is likely the source of so many bad bosses. Fortunately for me, I always learn more from my mistakes than I do from times when everything went smoothly. Here is what I have learned are the baseline skills any supervisor needs before they should be allowed to lead people. 

  • Good supervisors train their staff – not just what to do, but how and why

I touched on this a little in last week’s blog about internal communications. This topic is important enough to give more attention. Staff are not mind-readers. Can they figure it out? Yes, sometimes. They may be able to figure out what they should be doing. However, it’s the how and the why that will help them to be successful. It’s the how and why that will set any company apart from the competition. 

If a company makes widgets, it’s obvious that staff need to know what to do to make a widget.  Say the company prides itself on producing the very best widgets in the industry. There may be a special technique to making the very best widgets. This is where the how comes in. The supervisor will need to train staff on exactly how to create the very best widgets in the industry. Additionally, explaining the why will give the staff ownership and buy-in. If the company strives to be the number one widget producer in the world, how the widgets are made will play a big role in reaching that goal. The supervisor is connecting the dots between what the widget maker is doing every day and how it connects to the company’s global vision. 

As a supervisor, it is easier and takes less time to just tell staff what to do. It’s even easier to just tell them the what and the how. Really good supervisors close the loop to ensure staff feel a part of the bigger picture. Knowing why their actions have larger implications motivates them to take the extra steps to produce quality work. 

  • Good supervisors listen AT LEAST as much as they speak

Quality, thoughtful staff training will lay the foundation for a staff person to be successful. The next important component to supervising is to listen at least as much (if not more) than you speak. Once staff are trained on the what, how, and why, it’s time to shift to listening mode. Check for understanding. Ask what questions they have. Ask again, because they may not want to give a bad impression by not understanding instructions the first time around. 

In addition to making sure they understand their job fully, ask about their ideas for improvements. The company may think they have created the very best system for producing quality widgets. However, the people doing the work every day might have some great ideas for improving upon the process. Ask about efficiencies. Ask about quality. Ask. Ask. Ask. 

In a community I used to live in, the garbage men and women would go around and collect garbage by picking up the street-side dumpsters and physically dumping them into the garbage truck. This was time and staff intensive, as well as physically taxing. Deciding there had to be a better way, one garbage man designed an automated system that would pick up the street-side dumpsters and pour them into the garbage truck. He did the math and was able to show that investing in this system would reduce workman’s compensation expenses, enable trucks to operate with fewer staff, and warrant the company to expand its service. Leadership listened. The expansion allowed them to retain the extra staff no longer needed on the trucks, by growing to more service areas. 

Staff have great ideas. Granted, they have some bad ones too. Innovation and new opportunities come from discussing ideas. Good supervisors create an atmosphere where staff enjoy sharing their ideas – the good and the bad. 

  • Good supervisors treat staff like real human beings

Think about this. How do you like to be treated at work? With respect? Like you matter? As if the things you think and say have value and could help advance the work of the company? Well, it’s the same for employees. Gone are the days of people just feeling blessed to work for a company. Competition for quality employees is higher than ever. Creating an environment where people feel great about working for you is key to attracting and keeping the kind of people you want in your company. 

This means getting to know them. Find out about their family and their background. Supervisors should create opportunities to know what’s going on with their staff. They shouldn’t find out through the grapevine that a staff member is getting married or going to Australia or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Opportunities for personal relationship building should be built into staff meetings or one-on-one conversations. And supervisors need to listen closely during these segments. In addition to learning about the people who work for the company, supervisors will also learn a lot about what staff like or dislike about working for them. 

When developing a new supervisor, these are the basics. Creating learning opportunities where new (or not so new) supervisors can master these three things will start them on the path to success. Do leaders need to know everything? No. They need to know how to train their staff on the what, how, and why of their jobs. Beyond that, supervisors need to support and listen to their staff. 

I was going to move on to the skills that will take supervisors to the next level, but I think that warrants its own article. Next week I will delve into giving staff autonomy, the spotlight, and advancement opportunities. Isn’t it exciting to have something to look forward to!?!?

Want to create a culture where employees trust, respect, and enjoy their bosses? Need help cultivating good supervisors in your business or organization? Email me at to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to discuss getting started. Calm the Chaos with quality supervisors, so you can find time to focus on what’s important to YOU! 

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.

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