The holidays are upon us. We just celebrated Thanksgiving along with our biggest buying “holidays” of the year: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. I don’t know if you typically buy something for your team, throw a gathering, or do something else, but no matter what you were planning the best gift you could possibly give your team is to invest in yourself as a supervisor.
Now I’m not at all suggesting you’re the worst supervisor in the world. I happen to know exactly who that is and I guarantee they aren’t reading this or listening to the podcast. **If you think I’m wrong, we’ll do something on supervisor horror stories another time and you can share your own entry for worst supervisor ever. Lol. Sigh.**
What I am suggesting is that more than a Starbucks gift card, a party, or a batch of your homemade fudgy num-nums, your team would absolutely appreciate you learning and growing in your role so you become a more effective supervisor. If you’re like me, you didn’t get much in the way of supervisor training. Even as you tried to figure things out and went to the people around you for support – your supervisor, maybe a mentor, other trusted colleagues – you may have gotten advice, but how legit was it? I’ve seen and experienced many well-meaning supervisors do things that made the situation worse either in the short or long term. We have many things we do that seem like good ideas, but really don’t serve us or our team.
Take the old open-door policy. Most of us think this is a great idea, right? I mean we want to let our folks know we’re listening and are there for them. We want them to feel like they have direct access to us because we want clear communication and to build trust. But what this usually ends up looking like is you constantly interrupted, employees feeling more and more like they need to run everything by you before they act, employees being a little too comfortable coming to voice every complaint that pops in their head, and you staying late/coming in early to catch up on what you needed to get done because your door was so open.
That’s just one example of what I’ve seen – and honestly done – in the attempt to be a good supervisor without actually getting accurate information or guidance on how to be an effective one. When these things happen, you and your team get the short end of the stick.
Now obviously, we work in higher ed and are almost two years into a pandemic. You’re probably thinking, “Um, okay, Anne, I’ll get right on that.” *eyeroll* Actually, you’re probably wishing you had the time or energy to invest in yourself in any way at all. So I want to walk you through two relatively easy ways to invest in yourself as a supervisor that will actually give you pretty quick results AND benefit both you and your team.
Stress Management. I’ve talked at length in other episodes about the cost of stress on our lives – mentally, emotionally, physically, etc. In a nutshell, it’s bad. We’re our worst selves when we’re caught in chronic stress. Being stuck in that freeze, flight, or flight state changes our physiology. Our bodies and minds are literally using all of our resources and energy to prepare you to fight or flee whatever it believes to be the threat. That means we’re less creative, less positive, less patient, less smart, and our talents are more likely to show up as weaknesses. All of these things impact the quality of our decisions, our interactions, and our productivity, which absolutely impact your team negatively.
The flip side of that is stress management or self-care. Self-care has gotten a bad wrap lately because it doesn’t really address the systemic problems that lead to so much stress. That’s very true, but we also can’t effectively fight to change those systems when we’re stuck in fight or flight.
Developing a robust self-care practice is important for you as a person, but it’s also important to your team. I often tell people in our trainings and coaching that if you do nothing else but invest in your self-care, you’ll automatically become a better supervisor. Why? For the very reasons I just talked about. You’ll be more creative, have better interactions, be more positive, make better decisions, and you’ll be more productive. All of those things will impact your team positivity.
Energy Management. The next thing I want to talk about is thinking about yourself in terms of energy instead of time. We don’t have time to get into physics or quantum physics here, but essentially you are energy. The hormones associated with the stress response make our brains and bodies focus on time. But time isn’t really the problem.
Imagine if you will – and unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll need to use your imagination – being absolutely slammed and overwhelmed with work. When you look at your calendar, it’s just meeting after meeting. Then you see it – an entire day with nothing on it. You quickly block off the time and think to yourself how much work you’re going to get done during this magical time. Now fast forward to that day. How much do you get done? Not much, right? Why? Not because you lack the time. After all, you have an entire day “free.” You don’t get much done because you don’t have any energy.
When you start paying attention to how you’re spending your day from an energetic point of view, you suddenly get a great deal of data about what energizes and drains you. That tells you more about what you should be spending your time doing, and what needs adjusting.
Say you have this open-door policy we talked about earlier. You can track how many interruptions you have from a time perspective, but that doesn’t tell you what part of that time is productive and what isn’t. Maybe when your folks come in and talk to you about an idea or a professional development opportunity you feel energized. Maybe when someone comes in and complains, you feel drained. Both scenarios impact the next thing you do. If you’re drained from a conversation and have to go back to a difficult project, you’re not going to get much done. If you’ve just had an energizing interaction, you’re going to accomplish a lot more.
When we know what energizes us and what drains us, we can better schedule our days to maximize our energy. When we know we have energy, we can focus on those more complex problems or tasks. When we know we’re drained, we can focus on more rote tasks. For example, when I’m writing this week’s article/podcast, it requires more creativity and thus more energy. I make sure I’m doing that when I know my energy will be high. Editing however is a pretty rote task, so I plan on doing that later in the day when I typically have less energy. Likewise, when we identify certain tasks or activities that energize us, we can make sure we do more of those throughout the week. When we know what drains us, we can see if there are other folks on the team who find them energizing and move tasks around.
There’s absolutely a connection here between talent and energy. When our talents show up as Strengths, it’s the best possible use of our energy. When they show up as weaknesses – or we’re just not talented in a certain area, it’s often the worst possible use of our energy. The more we’re aware of how our energy fluctuates based on our interactions and activities, the more we can start to maximize how we spend our day. That ultimately makes us more productive and a better supervisor.
Both of these practices can up your supervisor game, which will positively impact your team. That’s an incredible gift to the folks who work for you, especially considering Gallup has found that an employee’s supervisor directly impacts over 70% of employee engagement. The better supervisor you are, the more engaged your employees are likely to be and the more invested they’ll feel about working on your team.
Now some of you will take one or both of these ideas and start implementing changes. But other folks will need more support. That’s not a judgement. We didn’t delve much into specific talent themes today, but some talents are just quicker to act or have certain tendencies that allow them to change their habits more quickly. If you don’t fall into that group and want to make these changes but need more support, we’d love to have you join us for our spring Supervisor Strengths Institute.
We actually wrapped up our fall Institute right before Thanksgiving, so we asked everyone what their major take-aways were from our eight weeks together. Quite a few folks mentioned these two areas – how important more self-care was and that shift from thinking in terms of energy instead of time. We cover so much more in terms of content during the Institute, but it was so rewarding to hear how these basic concepts really increased the quality of their supervision and their lives.
So as you’re thinking about what to get your team this December, give them a gift that will last the entire year and longer – a less stressed and more effective supervisor.
If you’re interested, you can check out more details on our website https://www.strengthsuniversity.org/supervisorstrengthsinstitute. The Institute runs from Tuesday, January, 11 through March 8, 2022. Registration is open now until Monday, January 10, but if you register during 2021, you’ll save $200.
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