Value Your Supervisor, and Work Like Someone Who Doesn’t Need One!

Posted on by Denise James

So there’s this person at internships and in workplaces who is called a supervisor. The supervisor is responsible for making sure that everything gets done as it should. In many work environments, people choose not to like their supervisor because that person sometimes has to tell them what to do, and of course, no one likes to be told what to do!

Let’s challenge this common assumption by taking a closer look at the value of supervisors.  In order to challenge it, we need to challenge ourselves to look beyond the moment. So we’re going to examine common assumptions about supervisors, and for this purpose, let’s just pretend that we’re talking about your supervisor at your job or internship.

1) The unimpressive supervisor: You might not be impressed by this person, but he/she is in charge. So the first challenge is to respect the person in charge, because if push comes to shove, he/she stays and you go and employees who help their supervisor to succeed are more successful themselves. If you can’t respect the person, at least respect the position and learn from the experience as a whole.
Take away: Demonstrate respect for the position of the person in charge.

2) The “old school” supervisor: Perhaps you do know how to do it better, faster, cheaper and cooler, but the supervisor comes with his/her own set of instructions from higher-level management based on information you may not know. You can respectfully share another way to do something (try to avoid saying “better” because you’ll come off as arrogant), but if the supervisor doesn’t use it, roll with his/her plan. Consider that management must take into account the perspective of customers, other employees, and any associated costs that come with your suggested improvements — and maybe the organization isn’t ready to evolve, yet.
Take away: Practice patience — change takes time!  Meanwhile, learn how to think through ideas the way that he/she does and it might help you to better communicate your ideas in the future.

3) Lastly, the “on your back” supervisor:  There just may be a reason your supervisor is on your back. Try to look at your performance and/or behavior from his/her point of view. Do you run late? Are you less than attentive to safety issues?  Do you only do the minimum unless directed? Are you “wowing” your customers less than 100% of the time?  Do you obsess over your red Swingline stapler to the detriment of any real work being accomplished (see the movie Office Space for stapler reference)? Sometimes the more an employee defends his/her actions, the more this demonstrates the problem(s) that the supervisor has with the employee in the first place. Try this instead: Rather than becoming defensive regarding the supervisor’s criticism (with excuses, rationales, and protests), ask sincerely for more specific feedback, such as, “Can you tell me how you’d like me to do this differently next time?” Also thank the supervisor for pointing out your misstep and assure him/her you’ll do better in the future. A sincere apology never hurts either.
Take away: Listen to corrective feedback and always strive to be your best.

These are  three common supervisor complaints, along with some suggestions about how you can challenge  yourself to be a better employee rather than allowing the situation to block your view of what’s most important. If you let yourself, you can take away valuable lessons from any supervisor and benefit in a positive way from the experience. Who knows, once you’re the supervisor, you may be able to make these suggestions to your own employees!

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