A Surprising Way to Be a Better Supervisor

HR consultant in Lansing Michigan talking with a facilities manager
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If you’re stressed at work, people around you can feel it.  It makes others uneasy.  They wonder if you’re going to snap and walk out or even unleash on them.  Now they’re stressed out too!

The most dangerous thing about stress in the workplace is that it’s contagious.  It can run through a department faster than the latest strain of the flu.

But who isn’t stressed these days?  With the pace of change accelerating and expectations for results as high as ever, it’s a natural reaction to pressure.

Being a steady, calming presence when others are panicking is one of the traits that separates world-class supervisors from adequate ones.  If you’re calm, you’re more likely to be patient with others and notice important cues in your environment.  You’re also more likely to tap into great ideas running just below the surface of your thinking mind.  And, just as stress rubs off on others, so does calm.

The secret to staying peaceful in the midst of work-life chaos is much easier than you think.

Mindfulness is the Antidote

Mindfulness is a term used to describe the mental act of being in the moment.  Rather than dreaming about the future or fretting about the past, you train your mind to remain attuned to what is happening at this very moment.

I learned to be mindful after my son was born.  Everything felt overwhelming, and I was learning to care for another human being on the fly.  I still had to care for myself, the household, and my job.  The no-fail method I used to counter the desire to jump in the car and never turn back was staying in the moment.

When I was changing a diaper and my mind would start to wander to everything else I had to do, I would tell myself, “I am changing a diaper.  That’s all I need to do right now.”  I’d then narrate in my head every step I took.  “I’m taking the diaper off.  I’m picking up the wipes.”  And so on.  In between motions, I would notice my senses– what I was hearing, seeing, smelling, and feeling.  “His skin feels warm and soft.  The sun coming in the window feels warm.“  I also grounded myself in the moment by talking to my baby.

Being a supervisor is stressful because it’s often overwhelming.  You have to take care of the needs of your staff, your supervisor, your peers, and you have your own individual work to complete.

Being mindful and focusing on the task in front of you at that specific moment instantaneously removes the overwhelm.  You simply cannot think about everything when you’re fully focused on the present.

How to Do It

Simply telling yourself to stay in the moment won’t work.  The mind is powerful and has a tendency to act like a child.  It’ll respond to such a directive with a firm, “You can’t tell me what to do!”

You need a ploy to enable you to sneak mindfulness in through the back door.  The mind likes to stay busy, so use the art of redirection (which also works great on kids!).



Give your mind something to focus on. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Focus on your breathing

This is an old yoga trick.  Focus on the air going in through your nose; it has a slight cooling sensation.  Then notice the air going out; it has a slight warming sensation.  Notice the small pause between the in and the out as the air changes direction.  Do this for 4-5 breaths, and you’ll be completely grounded in the moment.  Or simply one breath will do the trick to bring you back to the now.

  • Notice your senses

When we’re in our heads worrying about the 247 items on our to-do list, we often don’t notice a subtle change in temperature, smells around us, or sounds in the distance.  Focus your attention on one or all of your five senses.  Doing so will keep you in the moment because all of those things are occurring right now.

  • Narrate the steps

Like in my example of diapering my baby, if the task you’re working on is a solo one and your mind is jumping around, you can give yourself a play-by-play in your head.  You can even do it out loud if it helps!  I don’t recommend the spoken narration if you’re working on a project with others, though.  They’ll definitely think you’ve snapped!

  • Assign the mind a project

If you give your mind a specific task, it can pin your thoughts to the here and now.  For example, you could decide that throughout the day you are going to look for one thing for which you can praise each person you encounter.  Or you could try to interpret the mood of each person you talk to.  The specific task doesn’t matter as much as finding something to bring you to the present moment, but it might as well be something that helps you be a better supervisor!

Mindfulness Practice

Like most things in life, becoming more mindful is a journey, not a destination.  It takes time and practice to train yourself on this new habit.

A great time to practice this is when you’re in a meeting and your mind is wandering to your to-do list.

Resist the temptation to pick up your phone to start reading email messages in a frantic attempt to get something done.  This is unprofessional, disrespectful of others, and you’re certain to miss either hearing something you need to know or adding your perspective when it is needed.

Focus instead on the words that are being said, how they are being said, and the speaker’s body language.  Notice how your backside feels against the seat and how your feet feel against the floor.  Ground all your thoughts and senses in the moment.

Remember to Remember


How would you be a better supervisor if you were fully engaged in the moment?  Would you be a better listener?  Could you solve problems faster?  Be a role model for your staff on how to be more effective?

Identifying why you’d like to start a new habit and what you will gain will help you follow through and put it into place.

I once heard the term “remember to remember.”  What it means to me is that during our busy days we can get swept away by an emotional riptide and feel we have no control.  We temporarily forget that peace of mind is here for us in this, and every, moment.

I use the mantra “remember to remember” as a reminder to myself to recall this fact every day, in every moment.

Share Your Enlightened Thoughts!

Now that you are calm and peaceful, you probably have a great perspective to share on mindful supervision.  Please share your thoughts and feelings in the comment section below. I can’t wait to read your thoughts.

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