Many supervisors are in positions of leadership because they were high performers in their previous roles. However, to be brutally honest, many supervisors are in leadership positions because of who they know. Whatever the circumstances that led to being in a leadership position, if leaders are not appropriately trained, the entire organization will suffer. While I firmly believe that most leaders are well-intentioned in that they know what needs to be done, most leaders are not well-trained for the job. They don't know what they don't know.
Many years ago, I worked as a customer service representative at a local bank. The expectation of all the CSRs was that we would take at least sixteen calls per hour, wherein we would assist customers with their accounts, money transfers, etc. In no time, I was averaging close to thirty-two calls per hour. I was good at the job of a customer service representative, which is likely why I was chosen to replace my supervisor when he suddenly left the bank.
On my first day as a supervisor, a CSR approached me and requested help dealing with a quite upset customer. The bank had misallocated her most recent deposit into her checking account, causing her mortgage payment to bounce. Back then, we called this customer type of customer a “Hostile," but to be perfectly honest, I would be upset too if my bank temporarily misplaced my deposit and caused me to miss a mortgage payment.
I joined the CSR in her cubicle and was able to settle the problem in under two minutes. I felt like a success! I walked back to my cubicle, thinking, "I am pretty good! I bet that CSR just figured out how I got promoted, and they did not."
I was literally patting myself on the back when I noticed my manager smiling at me from her office doorway in a way my mother used to when I was in trouble. My manager asked me to come into her office and close the door. I knew at once that a developmental moment was about to happen.
She said, “John, I know you have a high need for recognition, so I will begin by paying you a compliment - no one takes as many phone calls as you. But now, I want you to go back to that CSR and apologize to her about how you handled the situation with angry customer. You see, John, as a supervisor, your job now is to train others on how to turn difficult, time-consuming calls into quick solutions. What earned you your position as a supervisor cannot and will not get you where I want you to be, nor will it help the team. My expectation for you is that you will train others on what made you so effective as a CSR.
Do you see that, if my manager had not intervened, I would likely have placed my job security as a supervisor in continuing to work as a CSR? It is understandable, then, why untrained leaders tend to believe that the skills that got them there will keep them there. No one likes to feel like they've lost expertise, and many will continue to do the type of work that earned them a reputation positive enough to be promoted to a leader.
Another mentor who has left an indelible print on my life is Ross Reishus. It has been three years since he passed away, and not a day goes by that I do not appreciate his years of guidance and wisdom. I would not be today as a speaker, author, trainer, and coach without him.
After each supervision training class he conducted, Ross had a way of getting leaders to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they would be part of the problem or part of the solution. To paraphrase, Ross would say, “I am not impressed with what you know today about supervision… I am more impressed with what you are doing with what you know. Your bosses, your team members, and yes, your kids all benefit when you apply leadership fundamentals. From this point forward, it's your choice. If you don't want to apply the things we talked about, that's okay. You are not a bad person. It just doesn't make you a good fit for a leader. You see, what got you here - won't get you there!"
*This is Part I of a two-part blog series on the responsibility of all effective leaders to practice self-reflection and accountability. Stay tuned for the next installment!
In loving memory of
Thank you! You are sorely missed!