Think about the best supervisor you’ve ever had or worked alongside. Think about what specifically made them such a good supervisor. It likely isn’t the person’s knowledge or skill that makes them stand out in your mind, but how they behaved in relation to you.
In a past article, What Makes a Remarkable Supervisor?, I discussed four traits of great supervisors. Today we’re going to round out that list with a couple more.
Good supervisors will take the time to bounce ideas around, discuss best options, and be a listening ear. But great supervisors go beyond that and pull others toward implementation.
They may encourage us to go faster than we want to go sometimes, but in the end, we feel the pride of accomplishment and appreciate their insistence on forward movement.
These action-focused supervisors have a clear sense of urgency. They convey deadlines clearly, ask for regular updates, keep communication flowing, and are there to boost others over walls or show them the unseen path around a roadblock.
They operate a little like motorized boats, without brakes and stopping only by letting up on the gas and drifting close to the stopping point. At the last moment, you shift into reverse, because even in neutral, a boat is slowly coasting forward constantly as a result of momentum and water flow.
Effective supervisors spend most of the time in drive. They know when to ease off the gas, when to go full throttle, and when to put it in neutral. They don’t ever seem to fully brake.
But they never race so fast they leave stressed, depleted bodies strewn in their wake.
Positive vs Negative Stress
When we hear the term stress, we think of something bad, but not all stress is actually negative. Positive stress, eustress, is defined by Merriam-Webster.com as “a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being.” It’s productive rather than destructive.
There’s a difference between badgering someone who’s trying their best to get the work done and maintaining a healthy sense of urgency. It’s critical to understand this in order to avoid driving your direct reports nuts!
This is the magical balance that the best supervisors know how to maintain in their teams. So, how do you know if you’ve hit the mark?
By observing people’s behavior, you will likely know if they’ve tipped from eustress into stress. As you get to know the people you work with, you know the frame of mind they are in when they are fully productive and in the zone, and you also recognize the symptoms that they’re coming unraveled.
If you’re not so good at interpreting nonverbal cues, or even if you are, it is important to build rapport with the people who work with you so that they’ll feel comfortable telling you the truth. It’s hard for anyone to admit that they’re in over their heads, but it’s even harder if they are afraid to tell you about it. This leads to dishonest answers, or even worse, employees not telling you until it has become unmanageable.
While great supervisors have that motivating sense of urgency, their behavior does not signal an emergency. In fact, top supervisors have a calming presence.
When others are panicking about the latest project disaster or piece of bad press, these peaceful souls are the ones that listen quietly and then share a few words of wisdom that put everything in perspective and everyone at ease.
They resist the temptation to step in to solve problems in an attempt to rescue the group from a crisis. Instead, they stay with them for support and guidance while projecting a relaxed confidence that the team has what it needs to overcome the challenge.
If you can hold space for the group to temporarily freak out and then gently redirect their energy to the issue at hand, you’ll find yourself being looked to for leadership more and more often.
What it Takes
Being a calming presence for others requires being able to soothe yourself when feeling emotionally unstable. This is a skill that can be developed over time.
The easiest way to do this is to recognize negative feelings and stop them in their tracks. We all know negative feelings; they’re the ones that feel bad, such as fear, anger, sadness, overwhelm, etc.
You’ve got to catch them in the very early stages before they take on a life of their own. Once that emotional boulder starts to roll down the hill, it’s pretty much impossible to stop it. But when you catch it in the first couple inches, it’s manageable.
Make the decision to start noticing your emotions—and those of your team—in the early stages. It’s empowering to see the emotion pop up and be able to notice it and talk yourself off the ledge before it even takes root.
As you practice staying more even-keeled yourself, it will make you a rock-solid supervisor that others can count on to be a calming presence.
Share Your Stories
If you have experience with a supervisor who has either of these traits or if you have ideas on how to develop them, please share them in the comment section below!
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