Good Leaders Wield Good Shields
There are a lot of things you need to do for your people if you want to be a leader as well as a supervisor. Just because you have that spiffy title doesn’t make you a leader. No, the “Leader” mantle is something you have to earn. And as long as you do the right things for the right reasons, you will.
One of those things you need to do is take care of your people, and one of the ways you do that is to “defend” them. “Why? Who is attacking?” you say. Let’s look at how a “dragon” might approach.
Defend. You defend your people from all comers – the upper management, your peers, the public (if you deal with them), contactors, and sometimes even the other subordinates who work for you. Nobody “beats up” on your people. Nobody! Tell your folks, in no uncertain terms, that “Nobody yells at you, and you don’t yell at anybody…ever. If anyone starts raising their voice – ask them to come see me.”
How about an example… On occasion the big bosses want to come down and see what’s going on in the trenches, which is a good thing. We need them to do that, but sometimes they want to correct or tell your folks how to do things. (Sometimes we call this “micromanaging.”) When they do that, the humble employee typically nods in agreement and goes about making the changes the big guy just told them to make. Where are you in all of this? You’re not! So, now your employee is a little confused. For some time he or she has been listening to you telling them they need to do something a specific way (for good reason) and then along comes the big boss and changes it. Now the employee is thinking that maybe they weren’t doing it right all this time, or maybe you didn’t know what you were talking about.
When this happens, you need to put on your mental armor and have a conversation with your boss letting him/her know (respectfully) that you truly do appreciate having them come into your area because you value their time and expertise, but if they would like to convey something to the people who work for you that it would be better if they would go through you – since you and your people have a pretty close relationship. Hopefully your boss will say that they are sorry for interrupting and they recognize that they were micromanaging and they’ll stay out of your hair. But on those occasions when they turn into Captain Ahab and start berating you and reminding you that they are YOUR boss, you work for them, they sign your paycheck…then there is another option you might select. You calmly say, “You know boss, you are absolutely right. Your are running the show around here and you have every right to be talking with all our folks and I’d just like to ask that when you come down to see us that you include me so I can be there to glean some of the experience you have to offer as well.” What you have done is ask to be present so you can hear their words, but in reality you want to be there so when they tell your people to do something you can step in (politely) and let them know why your folks are doing what they are doing and how it is so much more effective that way etc. etc. etc. You put yourself between the boss and your employee so you take any and all heat. Not the employee.
In the end, your people don’t feel as if they are being forced into doing something they don’t understand, or being made to do something that isn’t their job.
Now, I know this is inconvenient to do sometimes and there is some stress involved, but every time you do it, your people know and appreciate you taking care of them. They see and feel your presence and support.
Example 2. When one of your peers sees fit to correct or instruct your folks on how to do something, you need to ensure that your peer understands who works for whom. You don’t have to be belligerent about it, but they need to “cut their own grass” so to speak, and you’ll take care of yours. If they see something that might need your attention, ask them to let you know so you can look into it, but you’ll take care of it. And of course, you’ll do the same for them. This is just life in the big corporation and everyone should understand this, but some don’t. You are the supervisor for your folks – only you. Not them. You. There should be no confusion about this on anyone’s part.
Example 3. If you are in a business that deals directly with the public – you are in a tough business. There are times when the public can be very challenging and sometimes disagreements arise. Your employees should be trained and prepared to deal with the typical issues. However, there are times when tempers flare and voices rise and one of your people is on the receiving end. Remember, you have told your people that they don’t raise their voice. This is the time for you to step in (physically between the two if necessary), face the customer and say, “I’m sorry, there seems to be a misunderstanding here. How may I help you?” As soon as you do that, your employee is out of the fray. You are shielding them and you will take care of this problem. Think about this for a minute: as a supervisor, what is it that you can’t take care of? You have experience in these types of situations, you know your job, you know how the system works, and you have the authority to make some great things happen. So, you leave your person out of the conversation for right now and you handle the situation.
When it’s all over and done, you can go back to your person and ask, (with an expressive sigh of relief) “So, what was that all about?” If you have been taking care of your people like we are asking you to do here, they will tell you – and they will tell you the truth. And that is what we are looking for…that is what we NEED.
Example 4. Then there is working with “internal” customers. For instance contactors who are working with you in order to accomplish a particular project and are not on the company payroll. These are people who are outside your company, but who are interdependently attached to your company. You have to deal with these people on a regular basis. Sometimes there are disagreements with these folks and it’s a challenging situation because neither one of you can afford to do without the other. You need their expertise and they need your money. When there is a flare up here, it is almost like two of your subordinates arguing with each other. Regardless, your people are your people and they will be defended. Like many conflicts this is a bit tricky because you need to solve the problem and maintain the relationship. In the end, your person comes first because they are going to be with you for a long time, they are on your team, and you care about them; the contractor is likely temporary. The key here is to get to the bottom of this issue as quickly as possible and use your “supervisory experience” to help solve it. Just being there in support of your employee is a big deal.
These are just some simple examples of how you might have to defend your people. When you look around your professional environment, you will see more. If your people know that you will go to bat for them in any situation, they will be happy to work for you. If you do what we have just described, one time, it will fly around your staff like wild fire and they will be glad to work with you – because they feel “safe” knowing you are there to support them. They need that…just like you do.