Monday, January 11, 2010

Supervising is a slippery slope

I ran across a grid I had created when I first became a supervisor. It documented questions I had of our department director. My plan was not to dart in every time I had a question, but to save them up, sort them by priority, and sit down and have a thoughtful discussion and record the answers for future reference.

Being promoted out of the ranks is a steep cliff to climb. Crevices that appeared to be good footholds disappeared as soon as I neared. More than once rock tumbled down the slippery slope as I gripped the side of the leadership precipice and toe-kicked helplessly trying to hang on.

It is almost laughable now—what I asked—nothing of earth shattering importance, more of sorting out responsibilities and understanding oversight of projects, attempting to direct attention to areas I felt were neglected, and questions on actions I should take to bring employees into alignment with established company guidelines.

I was sent on several missions. I wonder now if they were tests of my ability to step into a leadership role, or just traps I fell into of my own making. The odd thing is that the salespeople, whom I had previously worked side-by-side with, were more accepting of me as a leader than the sales assistants. When asked to alter a common mis-practice to better reflect company standards, one assistant snapped, “Someday we will have so many criteria and guidelines we won’t be able to sell anything.” Odd statement, I thought, from someone who doesn’t sell anything.

On another occasion my immediate manager was on vacation and the director sent me to give an assistant feedback on coming to work at set times as opposed to creating her own flex schedule. After I gently led her through the 'come to work on time' concept the assistant crossed her arms across, stared me down and stated, “You are not my boss.” I was dumbfounded and have no recollection of what I said in response. What remains is my total shock that anyone older than five would utter that sentence.

Pollyanna-esque, I ran confidently into the supervisor role, certain I was equipped with enough company experience, enough college management classes, and a thorough understanding of our company systems to succeed. Yet, surprises I never anticipated greeted me at each twist of the management trail, including that maybe it wasn't exactly what I thought it would be.

What was the biggest surprise you had when you stepped into management?