“Courage” may seem a bit over-the-top, but what actually goes on at work – all the drama – shouldn’t be minimized or taken for granted.
Supervisors do more than manage workflow or pass on orders from the higher-ups. For many employees, their direct supervisors are the human face of the organization – like it or not. All kinds of personal issues and self worth are packed into those moments – the real (and imagined) communication and interactions that transpire between colleagues and direct reports.
Some supervisors instinctively “get” this without having to think about it. They’re sure-footed and natural with people above and below them, so they almost never create unnecessary problems for themselves, and handle the problems that do come up with skill and efficiency. Those people are pretty rare these days.
That’s the main reason there’s so much talk about “workplace culture.” When a good culture gets going at work all kinds of problems don’t even get started, disagreements and mistakes are truly seen as opportunities to learn, employees are actually relaxed, focused, and productive, and that group is therefore more likely to achieve its mission – and be profitable.
Most supervisors aren’t fortunate enough to work in places like that. But it’s also not that the opposite is true and the rest of us work in absolute hellholes. Mostly, people go off to work every day with other decent people expecting to earn their pay, not cause problems, and go home to their lives at the end of the day. That’s all still true, but … problems still pop up as people increasingly bring their satisfaction with themselves, the world, their baggage, and their still only partially-formed “employee identity” to the workplace. Those are the 21st century realities supervisors are forced to deal with more than. Too often the actual work product is only a piece of a much more intense reality.
The courage I’m referring to isn’t about being tough or authoritarian enough or willing to go nose-to-nose with an employee. It’s about managing oneself while modeling emotional maturity, and displaying a positive, problem-solving focus on the mission at hand. And yes, it does also means paying attention, really knowing what’s going on, heading toward problems sooner rather than later, and, yes, being absolutely ready to address performance problems.
It’s been my good fortune to be successful at helping real people – normal human beings with lives – adapt, learn, and navigate forward so that they become strong supervisors whose employees regard them with trust and respect.