A Good Supervisor Knows How to Teach – and is Always Observing and Listening

In some of the training I do for organizations, I begin my sessions with “assumptions.”   This is usually a list of “well, duh, common sense” observations, just to remind all participants of our common starting point..  For example, in my Time Management training, here are the first two of a list of five assumptions:

1. The more efficiently you use your time, the more productive you will be in your work life, and in all areas of your life.
2. Others will try to dictate how you use your time. Do not let them. Decide, in advance, how you will use your time.

I thought of this “assumptions starting point” as I read this rather obvious, “well, duh, commonsense” article Who’s the Boss?:  New research shows the large economic value of effective supervisors and the surprising ways they make workers more effective, by Matthew Yglesias.  It is a reminder of the basic value of, and reason why we still need, good supervisory leaders for most workers.  Drawing on an extensive study on The Value of Bosses (link provided in the article), Mr. Yglesisas writes:

And the answer is that, yes, good bosses are a good deal better than bad ones. Replacing a supervisor from the bottom 10 percent of the pool with one from the top 10 percent increases output about as much as adding a tenth worker to a nine-worker team. (emphasis added).
The main impact effective supervisors have on their employees isn’t from motivating or supervising them per se, it’s from teaching them better work methods. But despite that teaching/learning dynamic, the most efficient matching structure is to assign the best workers to the best bosses rather than try to have the best bosses bring the weakest workers up to speed.

Now, if I were to lead a training session on “how to be a better supervisor,” I think I would start with a list of assumptions that include these:

1.  People at work are not good enough at their job now, and even the good ones can still get better.
2.  Workers do not and will not get “good enough, and then even better,” on their own.  Workers need to be taught how to do their job better.   (And, thus, the best workers are good at, open to, and committed to continual learning).
3. The best workers are precisely the ones that benefit the most from such teaching.
4.  A good supervisor fills the role of such a teacher.
5.  And, therefore, the average supervisor needs to be taught how to be a good teacher.
6.  And assuming that the supervisor knows how to be a good teacher, all such good teaching follows as a result of careful observation of, and listening to, the work of each worker.

It seems to me that it is a waste of resources to hire a worker, and say, “Okay, get to it,” without a good supervisor teaching that worker day-in and day-out.  And, it seems to be a further waste of resources to put people in supervisory roles without providing them help and training on how to be a better teacher.


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