Tagged ‘being a good supervisor‘

When Loner Meets Team

People who used to be called ‘loners’ are now introverts. Lately, there has been a blossoming of insight and information about introverts and a fair amount of appreciation for what introverts bring to the world. Susan Cain dissects the introvert’s world and how introverts affect the world in her book, The Power of Introverts.

But while we’re busy celebrating the introverts among us (or being greatly relieved because the world finally recognizes our value as introverts), the work world is still very much about collaboration and team work.

Teamwork can be very challenging for the introvert. Not because s/he doesn’t value collaboration but because teamwork often requires attitudes and approaches foreign to the introvert. If we remember this distinction between introverts and extroverts, it will be helpful to thinking about the teamwork challenge: extroverts refuel/get their energy from being with people; introverts do the same by withdrawing from interaction. Conversely, an extrovert can find the team experience to be exhilarating while the introvert find it exhausting.

The upshot of this difference may mean that the introvert’s contribution to a project’s success is less obvious. Not wanting to be in a group work environment may be interpreted as resistance or laziness. Being reticent to speak may be seen as lack of investment in the project’s success. Going off on one’s own to complete a project component might be viewed as arrogance.

Diversity manifests in many ways and not all of them are immediately obvious. Managers would do well to educate themselves about the differences between extroverts and introverts and reflect on their impact on the work environment, especially around the topic of teamwork. At the same time, a good manager probably wants to determine where s/he falls on the extrovert/introvert spectrum and think through how that might influence her/his assessment of the performance of colleagues and those they supervise.

Reading Susan Cain’s book would be a good first step. The next step is putting that new thinking into action in the workplace.

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Being the Boss

There’s a big difference between being smart and helping other people be smart.

A great boss helps the people s/he supervises become smarter and more capable. Unfortunately, the reasons why an employee is promoted to a supervisory position sometimes have little to do with supervisory skills. Often, the promotion reflects longevity and content skill rather than supervisory skill. And that makes sense.

Content skill is essential. An entrepreneur’s content skill – say her ability to write grants or organize strategic planning – will be enough to launch a business but won’t be enough to sustain it. A successful entrepreneur needs business management skill as well. How does one grow a business? Develop relationships? Manage investments? And survive failure and success?

The same is true with nonprofit or government managers. The content skill that got them to the big leagues won’t be enough to score the runs. The successful boss knows how to identify, develop, and launch the brilliance of his/her staff. There are volumes written on this topic but here are some observations from my work as a boss and my years of experience as an observer of boss/employee relationships.

To be a great boss, you need to:

  • Absolutely believe you are in the right job (you are not an imposter);
  • Lead, nurture and develop everyone you supervise (not just the willing but also the difficult, recalcitrant, and snarky);
  • Compete with your peers (not with your staff); and
  • Enjoy your work – every day in a different way.


I was a great boss but only with people who would have been fabulous without any supervision. I loved offering opportunities for those folks to shine, giving them challenging projects, and coaching them to overcome their fears. I didn’t do so well with people who were unenthused about work and very reluctant to put the time in needed to do great work. I never figured out how to inspire those employees. This was my shortcoming.

A lot of very valuable human capital is held back by bosses who are smart but don’t know how to help their employees be smart. Is this you?

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