Would You Work For You?

It's a simple question. Would you work for you? There's a statement spreading around Facebook, LinkedIn, and other business sites that "people leave bosses, not companies." So, if you have a great supervisor, you may stay longer than if you have a supervisor who isn't all that great. The Harvard Business Review also covered, way back in 2002, the importance of developing relationships, supporting a humanistic supervisory style, and not seeing employees as cogs in a wheel (Drucker, 2002).

I'm typically a very task-oriented person: I finish one task and move on to the next. I enjoy a to-do list and getting quickly through my e-mail. I think I have also appreciated the "service" approach to higher education as well as the developmental side. But, I think sometimes that means my approach to supervision has been task-oriented as well; and, I definitely notice when someone's approach to work is more developmental (I tend to envy that and have hired folks who complement my style).

A supervisor focused on only getting things done and checking the day off their work week might not get their supervisees to feel connected to their work or organization, to each other, and likely not their supervisor.

Knowing that I've always been more operational in nature, I have had to consciously work on being developmental and empowering. There were two things I definitely had to keep in mind:

Develop Humility: You're Not More Important Than Others.

In my housing role, I recognized I didn't have a lot of free time. I felt very busy and responsible for a lot of the action in the office. Whenever I describe the housing operations role, I say it is responsible for everything "physical" in the office: keys, rooms being ready, furniture, etc. But, until I moved into my current role, I think I had a feeling that without the housing ops person, the office would just crumble to the ground!

Not the case. We all do important work. We all do different work. But the quality of your work, the amount of tasks you've completing each day, doesn't define how valuable and important you, as a person, are. I'm not one to quote the Bible often, but there is a passage about self-importance and arrogance that fits here: "If you think you're too important to help someone...You are not that important."

People might see your role during the business day, but they'll remember the person you show them. Show them someone who appreciates others, who cares about the work everyone is doing, and demonstrate that you recognize the contribution they give to your office or organization. They are important, too.

Fail Freely: No One Wants To Be Micro-Managed

To have someone feel connected to their organization and work, they need to feel like they co-own the work they are doing. I don't want to work for someone who tells me exactly how to do things, every single day. There may be times when I need more guidance than others, but a good supervisor recognizes when someone needs guidance and when someone can run with a new project and make it their own.

It's always easier to do something yourself. There are plenty of times my boss would have gotten a better outcome if he had done something himself, and there are plenty of times I would have loved to take on a project myself. But, that's not where pride in your work happens.

Pride happens when you learn something new, when a supervisor teaches a new employee how to do something and, weeks later, the staff member does it on their own. I think the most prideful moment for my staff comes when I gently remind them to do something (perhaps a task that we should do annually) and they reply "Already done!" Or, when they solve a problem without even asking me my opinion.

If you take on all of their work, or tell them how to do everything the way you want it, they'll have this unfair set of expectations placed upon them. They need to be you. And, you didn't hire a mini-you. You hired someone who displayed the potential to be competent and work hard. Allow them to do the work. Allow them to be challenged. And, if they fail, allow them to fail freely with support. They should know you have their back if something goes wrong and are willing to engage with them to help them succeed the next time around.

I'm Working On It!

It's not always easy; in fact, both of these two things are really tough for me sometimes. I get pleasure out of being the first to solve a housing problem or fix a problem that's not mine. The first step to implementing both of these items daily? Tell your staff you'll fail at them sometimes. Let them know you're human and sometimes get busy. And, ask them to challenge you if needed.


Drucker, P. F. (2002). They're not employees, they're people. Harvard Business Review, 80(2), 70-7.


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© 2020 by Dr. Brandon Barile

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