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New Supervisor: Prepare for Your Changed Role

By Charles Hopkins Published 07/6/2006 | Jobs and Careers
How different will your new job as a supervisor or team leader be compared to your old job? Are you prepared?

Either prior to taking your new supervisory job or shortly thereafter, it would be to your advantage to assess your strengths and weaknesses; particularly those that will help or hinder your success as a supervisor or team leader.

It's likely that at least some of your strengths will help you be an effective supervisor. And, more than likely, you have other strengths that weren't demonstrated in your current job that will also help you effectively supervise others.

The strengths that might help a new supervisor are innumerable. Here are a few that would certainly help any supervisor:

- Ability to listen
- Decisiveness
- Flexibility
- Concern about people's welfare
- Ability to make effective presentations
- Understanding of the work of the organization

The list could go on forever. However you can see, without any further instruction, how these strengths would benefit any first-time supervisor.

Let's consider the negative side--your weaknesses that could work against your success as a supervisor.

Weaknesses are defined as ineffective or negative behaviors, bad habits, or negative traits; or lack of skill in specific supervisory responsibilities. Negative behaviors are often referred to as "baggage" or "self-defeating behaviors."

Since most of your time is spent dealing with other people--employees, managers, staff personnel--you need to recognize that the interpersonal baggage or self-defeating behaviors you bring to your supervisory position will impact how well you do as a supervisor.

Lack of skills can be dealt with by formal or on-the-job training.

How can these self-defeating behaviors impact a person moving into a supervisory position? Let's look at a typical example of a new supervisor:

George spent several years as an auditor in his company's internal auditor's office. He was known for his expertise and dynamic character. His supervisor and others rarely challenged his findings. He knew that his conclusions would be accepted, giving him a rather high opinion of himself as an auditor. He had all the answers.

Because of his excellent track record, he was selected to be the chief of his unit when his supervisor retired. He felt comfortable that he could handle the job without any problems.

However, when he actually took over, he found that his people did things differently than he did. He felt that, since they did things differently, they must be wrong. He wasn't willing to see other ways of doing things. For example, he had developed a writing style that seemed to work for him. It was flowery, using very bureaucratic language. Consequently, he felt that the way he always wrote was the best. And he was going to make sure that all his auditors would write the same way. He became very demanding, correcting their audit reports and making them do them over many times before he was willing to accept them. Plus, he treated them as if they were incompetent.

George soon found himself alienated from his employees. They avoided him as much as possible. When they were faced with having to redo their reports, they grudgingly rewrote them with as little contact with him as possible. Reports started coming in late. This further enraged George, which led to his calling meetings where he severely chastised his employees. It all became a vicious cycle.

What strengths do you have that will make you a better supervisor? What weaknesses, self-defeating behaviors, or baggage do you carry with you that will negatively affect the way you supervise? How can you tell what they are?

One way is to carefully do a self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. This can be done in the following ways:

First, reflect on your work with others over the last few years. What have people said you were particularly strong at? What are the strengths that make you look like a prime candidate for supervision? Just the fact that you're being considered for supervision or you're interested in becoming a supervisor tells you there's some reason for thinking that you could function effectively as a supervisor.

What have you noticed about your behaviors and skills that would indicate that you might have some difficulty being effective as a supervisor? What have others said that you're particularly weak at or need to improve? We all have things that we need to work on, even if they are not career-killing.

Second, conduct an informal survey of others you have worked with over the last few years. Ask them for frank comments on your strengths and weaknesses, particularly those that will help or hinder your success as a supervisor or team leader.

Now that you've identified your strengths and weaknesses, recognized your strengths, and asked others to give you their honest feedback of your strengths, what do you do with them?

- Encourage yourself

- Seek to further develop your strengths, particularly as they apply to being a supervisor

Knowing your strengths will give you greater confidence as you approach the sometimes difficult task of becoming a supervisor. Your employees will have to pick up on the fact that you are confident in your abilities as a supervisor. That doesn't mean that you know and can do everything well. But your confidence will definitely show.

Take a few minutes and write down at least one strength that you or others have recognized in you. Write how you can use the strength to make you a more effective supervisor.

Now you are ready for the weakness side of the coin. By spending some time and effort overcoming bad habits, you will reap great benefits in the future. Plus, you won't have to spend valuable time trying to overcome bad habits or dealing with the consequences of bad habits when you become a supervisor.

Here is the process you can follow to change the habits, baggage, or self-defeating behaviors that will hinder your progress toward being an effective supervisor or team leader:

- Identify and describe the self-defeating behavior you want to change

- Describe why you want to change the self-defeating behavior

- Describe the new behavior you want to substitute for the self-defeating behavior

- Plan and implement a strategy to overcome the self-defeating behavior

- Evaluate how you are doing

Take the time before you become a supervisor, or early in your supervisory career, to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Build on your strengths and make a concerted effort to overcome your weaknesses or self-defeating behaviors. Doing so will reap long-term benefits in your supervisory and possibly your future management career