Employers would be wise to stop promoting individuals as a reward for performance in a different role. Choose supervisors based on their talent to communicate well and ability to develop others. Natural supervisors want to be open and are approachable. Good supervisors establish priorities and goals. Good supervisors focus on others’ strengths. Great supervisors improve the level of trust in the workplace.
Gallup’s four-decade research of 27 million employees identified five talents great managers possess. “They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.“ Tall order; their research revealed only 10% possessed all five and an additional 20% have some of the talents.
Supervisors can learn to be better supervisors as long as they have positive intention for the company and its employees. Human brains are hardwired to be emotional first and logical second. Our brain’s job is to keep us safe. As a result, people tend to make quick decisions to protect themselves. It takes effort to look beyond what we instantly see to use the logical, reasoning part of our brain. Supervisors benefit from learning how our brains work. Good supervisors will practice recognizing the difference between reacting and responding with thought.
Personal conversations between supervisor and employee are becoming more important. Daniel Coyle’s best seller, The Culture Code explains the benefit of social cues and kindness. In one true story, the 2004 European Soccer Championship was expected to be a repeat of police meeting chaotic scenes with violent fans. Clifford Scott, a social psychologist who studied riots was able to test his theory of social cues. The fans were seen as hooligans and the fans seeing police in riot gear and armored vehicles triggered a criminal reaction.
Scott trained the Portuguese police about social cues which included visual cues; keeping all riot gear out of sight. Their vests were changed from yellow to light blue. The police were encouraged to study the soccer teams so they could be well-versed when talking with the fans. Police were selected for their soft skills not their riot control skills.
European soccer fans play soccer in public places, often hitting bystanders and café tables with the ball; resulting in small scale confrontations that often escalate to riots. Police procedure is to forcibly intervene and confiscate the ball which escalates the confrontation. The police were retrained to ignore the small confrontations and only confiscate the ball if they could take it in play without a disproportionate use of power. The experiment was a phenomenal success and is now the model for controlling sport-related violence in Europe. Social cues of openness and positive communication, as well as the visual cues created a trusting instead of an adversarial climate.
Selecting a good supervisor starts with natural supervisors who are open, approachable and do not want to use authority to control others. The Portuguese police proved the ability to respond with unbiased decisions for the greater good rather than react to protect themselves. Natural supervisors can be trained to be great supervisors.