My sister still loves to tell the story of our first job at McDonalds. I was a 17 year old shift supervisor and my little sister joined me at the only employer for teens in our small town. According to her version of the story, I abused my power and forced her and her best friend to clean grout with toothbrushes in preparation for a corporate visit. “Do it or find yourself unemployed!” said the bully in me.
I’d love to tell you that college transformed me and after that I magically became an amazing leader of people, but I can’t because it isn’t true. I was fired from my first job out of college because I was too tough on my staff. I heard they often used the “B” word to describe me. And in a very sad sick way, I thought that was how supervisors were supposed to lead.
Luckily, someone took an interest in me and shared a couple books on leadership. I soaked them up like a sponge. That started a life of devouring mountains of business books and articles. And throughout my career I have been blessed to have mentors who have been brave enough to “call me out” when my inner bully emerged.
Just as important, I was given amazing access to training through seminars, workshops and conferences. One boss joked that he got his money’s worth when he sent me to a workshop. I always came back with an over the top crazed enthusiasm for new ideas. I wanted, more than anything, to be the type of leader that I saw in my incredible mentors.
Then one day, I spoke at a call center conference about our award winning sales program. I shared that the supervisors were the most critical component to the program’s success. They had communicated clear measurements to their reps. The supervisors then engaged, empowered and motivated their teams. At that moment I realized that I had made a 180. I was no longer the bully. I was the mentor teaching supervisors how to be strong leaders.
As most of you know, I’ve been working on a program to help supervisors advance their coaching skills. But as I put it together I have been pondering this difficult question: What is the difference between a supervisor who embraces an education opportunity and becomes a superstar and the one that never seems to get it and just gets by.
Reflecting on my personal story I think there are four keys:
- One is commitment and desire to succeed. A supervisor must really want to be good. It doesn’t just magically happen because you read a book or heard a great speech. It requires practice to learn new habits, to develop new behaviors.
- Two is a very clear understanding of what “good” means. I thought I was a good supervisor when I was fired from that first job. I had a bad vision. Vision comes from having a good role model, a great coach and access to education.
- Three is breaking down new knowledge and ideas into easy to understand and apply chunks. When I came back from a seminar with my yellow pad full of ideas, I only succeeded if I organized it and tried it one step at a time. Otherwise the new ideas become too overwhelming and the risk of paralysis is high.
- And most important is a great mentor and support system: to encourage the supervisor when they struggle, to help right the ship when they fail and to join in celebration when they succeed.
We all know that the, not so secret, secret to our success is the quality of leaderships skills our supervisors possess. And I hope you realize that they must have you in their court in order to become the leaders we want and need them to be.