May 05, 2008

I Take the Strategies Where I Find 'Em

Somewhere along the line, trying to describe my day at work, I made the comment that "supervising can be a lot like parenting."  (Mind you - in a lot of ways its not, too.  There is an escape clause in supervising - one that noone can arrest me for.)  It's an analogy that has occurred to me often since I first made it, and I've decided its a lot like parenting a teenager, specifically.

Today was another perfect example.  I spent 15 minutes listening to "Jane" vent her frustration with her secretary under the guise of asking me how to help handle the situation.  Recognizing that she really just needed to be heard, I refrained from pointing out that I told her last week how we were going to handle the situation and what steps she needed to take for us to be able to do so.  She wasn't ready to problem solve; she just needed to say it.  However, after I allowed her to vent, I pointed out something we are going to have to handle slightly differently because of a problem she has had.  She abruptly ended the conversation by saying "I just need to go home," throwing open the door of my office and walking out on me... Alrighty then.  I suppose I'll add that to the agenda for our meeting later this week, right along with the fact that she is a month late with a report - which is ironically similar to the problems she has with her secretary.  

Of course, I will have to spend some time figuring out how to address these issues in a way that she can hear and respond to.  I spend alot of time doing that, too, trying to figure how to give feedback in a way that will work for that person.  Mentoring them towards new skills or a change in approach, without lowering self-esteem or creating a feeling of hopelessness.  Finding the approach that works for this person, because goodness knows what worked for that other person won't be it.  (Again, with needing the parenting skills.)

Last week it was the peacemaking and ensuring good communication.  I spent a good half hour of my day sorting out a problem that turned out only to exist because two people who work as a team had a (thankfully rare) communication breakdown.  Once I sorted through the tangle with them and got them each to settle down, neither actually had a problem with how the other wanted the situation handled and there was an easy middle ground that they cheerfully took.  But, they needed help slowing down and listening to each other - and saying what they meant rather than just assuming the other person would understand.

And its very important that I somehow do this while still completely respecting that they are capable, intelligent, fully individualized people.  I can't baby them - its not good for them or me - nor can I (or should I) go behind them to ensure every little thing is done just so.  But, I have to keep tabs on what is going on well enough to know before a minor problem becomes a major disaster.  And I have to be able to tell when I should leave it alone and let them resolve it (because often they can) and when I need to step in.  Though, at least they often ask me to step in when the problem is building.  A teenager would never do that until its way too late... Boy, do I owe my Mom an apology for my teen years.  

(And, just for the record, I work with a team of talented, perfectly well adjusted adults.  It just adds up when there are a bunch of them, and a bunch of personalities having to work very closely together in stressful situations.)

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