There has been a conversation going on for decades about supervisors, managers, and upper level positioned employees and their tactics to manage their staff. On one end of the spectrum you have the tough guys and on the other, the compassionate ones. Very rarely is there a convergence.

The tough tactic of managerial leadership is a view from the bottom line: “we have 2 months to get the job done and you’re not cutting it here. Shape up or ship out”. This kind of leadership, if that’s what you call it, is hard to be under because there is no room for reasoning, information to be processed, or for understanding to be achieved. “It’s my way or the highway” is the motto and it usually leaves people frustrated, helpless, and filled with anxiety. We know these people all too well. This side of the fence holds parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, and managers of all kinds. In the ways of the toughness tactic, the only course of action is to resolve the problem.

The other side of managing people is those who are less anxiety-driven and more compassionate. These managers are called leaders because they actually lead people to the tasks at hand. No heavy fist pounding in this camp- only an open dialogue of what is expected, listening to what is going on in their world, and finding out how reconciliation can be found. When reprimands are necessary, there is a road to revelation that always leads to redemption. When all else fails and there has to be an exit, the termination is done in such a way that hones character, ushers in a spirit of education, and openness for dialogue. Even if it gets downright ugly, the compassionate supervisor knows that he/she has done everything they can extend care and concern for the one being let go.

Why is this subject such an important one to discuss?

Research at the Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism suggests that those who practice loyalty and trust, will have a better engagement in their job duties, perform more efficiently with their team mates, and understand with “skin in the game”. These team members understand the core values of the company, organization. This safe, positive, encouraging, and affirming workplace is the kinds of place where people like to go to work, enjoy their teammates, and appreciate the job they do.

How to become a better supervisor?

1. Unfold your arms, put a smile on your face, and stop pacing.

Open your body language to engage with people. Ask yourself, would you want to come to someone who is only looking at the bottom line if you have a concern or need to ask for time off? Or would you rather be able to present your need to a caring individual with a bigger picture in mind? Your posture says a lot about whether you are approachable or not.

2. Listen, listen, listen.

The lost art of listening has been duped by instant technology and gratification. Take a moment with your employees. Hear what is being said. Listen to the way they say it and their tone. Create a 1,2,3 method for listening:

  • 1. Look in the person’s eyes- let them know you care by your sight
  • 2. Listen with your undivided attention. Stop multi-tasking to indicate to them that you are “all ears”.
  • 3. Repeat back to them what they said to be sure you understand what it is they are saying.
  • 3. Reward honesty and appreciate personal values.

    As you listen and usher in an “I am here to help” attitude you will discover personal values that have been learned over their lifetime. As you see they’re arriving to work on time, hard work during a stressful season, or going the extra mile for a deadline, appreciate and value these people. Call them out during a staff meeting. Write a personal note of thanks. Put up a “Hard Workers” award bulletin board with their picture and what they did to deserve it.

    4. Practice accountability.

    Leaders know that sometimes there are consequences to actions. As you develop your compassionate skill set for people there will be times when you will have to let people hold their actions. Forgiveness is essential here but not letting them off the hook is just as important. Just like in parenting, it’s important to issue consequences for poor behavior or unethical motives. Help your team win by putting these expectations out in front of them, not by a set of do’s and don’ts but of reality living and being.

    5. Practice condolence.

    Harold Ivan Smith has done research in the unwritten role of condolence in the White House. He shares when the president of the United States takes an oath of office, there seems to be an unwritten rule of thumb that is issued at that same moment: that he becomes the “Chief Condoler”. A condoler is one who offers presence, special words or thoughts to those filled with sorrow or has anguish.

    The same is true for managers who supervise employees. When something happens at home, it’s just a matter of time before it affects the workplace. Open your door; invite these people into your office. Go to their workstation with a cup of coffee and listen, offer help to them, invite the team to bring assistance, and encourage opened-ended discussion about their adversity, loss, and change/transition.

    6. Celebrate achievements.

    As your team grows to new heights, celebrate. When a goal is reached, celebrate. When the project is over, celebrate. Create avenues in your budget for “team parties”. Endorse time in your schedule to turn the cubicles into “food stations” and invite people to bring their favorite family covered dish to share. Move beyond “jeans on Fridays” and set the clock for 5PM one hour early as a surprise to your employees for a job well done.

    Whether you’re a regimented “wrath like” manager or you are too kindhearted as an overseer, supervising people is not for wimps. It takes thick-skinned people willing to unmask potential, uncover hidden skillsets, and manage a team for a common goal. Being approachable and having a sense of warmth creates a whole new level to your management- which leads to better employee engagement, team members feeling more part of the process, less accidents, and more productivity.