Okay, so this is going to be a quick article. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty exhausted. On my end, I’ve been finishing our new, online course for job hunters. And once that was done, I immediately jumped into prepping for ACPA22. We’re giving away Supervisor Success Bundles, so I had to design all those pages. Plus, I had to get our power point ready for our session, “Refocusing on Employee Engagement Ensures Team, Student, and Institutional Success.” I’ve still got a few things left to do, but I wanted to put out an article for all of you wondering, how can I get all of this done and still be a good supervisor? If you’ve been asking yourself that very thing, keep reading.
Over the past few weeks in addition to all my planning and prepping, I’ve had quite a few coaching sessions where people ask me some variation of the title, like “I have to do ____, ____, and ____, but I’m also worried I’m dropping the ball with my team. How can I get those things done AND be a good supervisor?”
The question is often followed with statements like…
We’ve been short staffed for the past year and a half.
We’re down two staff members in my department.
This has been the worst week ever – I cried last night.
I’m not sure how much longer I can keep up this pace.
Now a few weeks ago, I did an article titled, “The Freedom of the Impossible.” I’m not sure if you listened, but if not, I recommend you do. This is really a brief follow up to that episode. I went into depth there, but I want to keep it short and sweet here.
The answer to the question, “How can I get all this done and still be a good supervisor?” is you can’t.
Let me repeat that. All the stuff you have to do is too much. Even if you stopped actively supervising your team, it probably wouldn’t get it done. Add on the supervisor role, and I’d bet 95% of you listening fall into the category of “No way, Jose.”
What’s the solution? If you want better answers, you need to ask better questions. Stop asking “How can I get this done?” And start asking, “Given my/our limited resources, what CAN we get done that will make the most impact?”
The answer is not everything. It can’t be, because you can’t physically or mentally do all of that. Not unless you and your team work insane hours, which means burning out faster. It’s just not possible. Stop looking for life and productivity hacks. Stop trying to think your way to a brilliant solution. If there was a workable solution, you would have found it already.
The solution is to prioritize the most important things, and set aside the others – at least until you get more resources, whether that be people or funding or whatever. And just to remind you, prioritizing everything is exactly the same as having no priorities.
I’m sure you have many thoughts coming to your mind right now, like…
I can’t just tell my boss I’m not going to do something. How can I just say no?
If I don’t do this, then students will pay the price. I can’t let them down.
I can’t not do my best at work. How do you expect me to slack off?
Yes, shifting your thinking about how you’re operating is going to be a challenge, because you’ve been doing it for so long. Yes, it means setting boundaries and advocating for yourself and your team. Yes, I’m asking you to start thinking about work differently. For some of you that means looking at how your talents are showing up as weaknesses and keeping you trapped trying to do too much. For others of you, it means looking at the stories you have about work, your co-workers, students, and your own self-worth.
For almost everyone, it means remembering that this is a job, not your life. You were hired to do ____ for ____ amount of money. I’m not sure exactly when that was, but since then my guess is that the “to do” portion grew substantially, but not in proportion to the amount of money. There’s probably many of you who are doing the job(s) of other people who have left. Or who just weren’t pulling their weight, so rather than address that with them, someone decided you’re the responsible one so you should do it. And most of you aren’t being compensated for it. And as much as people might say, “we’re like a family,” my question would be is this the kind of family who supports you and your wellbeing? If not, that’s not a healthy family to be a part of.
And it’s exactly because everyone is so stressed and overwhelmed that you feel stuck. Everyone is in fight or flight, which means that physiologically your body is forcing you to interpret all of these those fires you think you need to put out ASAP, as urgent. But they aren’t actually urgent. Maybe it would be ideal if they got done, but most of them wouldn’t have the catastrophic consequences we’re attributing to them because of the constant stress. Yes, there are some life-or-death situations that are absolutely urgent, but that’s not what most of us are dealing with on a daily basis.
If enrollment doesn’t go up and/or retention goes down, yeah, there’s a possibility that some people will lose their jobs. But guess what? Keeping everyone working at this pace means people are leaving anyway, and in the worst possible way. You working yourself to the point of burn out can’t change how many babies were born 17 years ago, can it? You trying to juggle everything isn’t going to counter balance bad decisions or mismanagement from administrators, is it? It’s time to start setting healthy boundaries for ourselves, our team, and our students – because they see what we do and copy it.
Give yourself grace. Invest in yourself and your supervisor skills to do better for you and your team. Prioritize based on what you can realistically do, not the unrealistic demands asked of you. Stop trying to do the impossible, because it’s just that.
On a lighter note, ff you’re coming to ACPA22 in St. Louis, please swing by Booth 12 in the Exhibit Hall. We’d love to say hi and to give you one of our Supervisor Success Bundles. We’re also presenting on Wednesday, March 9th at 9:45AM in rooms 265/266 of the America's Convention Center. Again, the topic is, “Refocusing on Employee Engagement Ensures Team, Student, and Institutional Success.” We’d love for you to join us.