Being a good supervisor can come with many challenges especially if you are supervising professional or paraprofessional staff for the first time or are working with a staff you did not have the opportunity to hire yourself. Often we want those we supervise to be confident that we know what we are doing and respect that we have the knowledge and expertise to do our job well. There is also the aspect in residence life of wanting to be liked by those you supervise as we tend to work (and sometimes live) very closely to one another. These challenges are not overcome with the snap of your fingers. Becoming a good supervisor is a process that takes time and effort on your part. Follow these tips and suggestions and you will be off to a great start.
Live in the moment
It can be so important for us to share our experience in previous positions, universities, or resident hall communities because our experiences have led us to where we are now. We are proud of our accomplishments and want others to learn from our successes and failures. However, you should not spend too much time talking about the past. If you hear yourself say things like, “Last year…”, or “At my former institution …” more than once in any conversation, you probably need to stop talking and start living in the here and now. Think about how you feel when someone you supervise compares you to a previous supervisor or compares your ideas to something they did before. Usually comparisons like this can upset us and make us feel unsure of our role. The same is true for those we supervise. If we are constantly referencing what we once did or who we use to work with, it could leave our new staff members feeling like we do not want to be here with them or that we think others could do it better. It is time to move beyond last year and live in the moment now. If you want your staff to know you have experience and understand why you got the job, you need to show them not tell them. Your actions will speak much louder then the stories you tell.
When coming into a new situation, there is a tendency to do a lot of talking about what you have done and how you want to see things. It is important for you to share your philosophy and expectations but it is equally important to hear what your staff has to say. It is very likely that at least one of your staff members has already worked there before you and can provide you a lot of insight and history of why something is the way it is. Hear these people out. They want to help you be successful in your position. Also by listening to what they have to say it gives them a sense that they are valued for their information. If you want to start off this way, think about asking more questions and offering fewer answers of your own.
Have a little faith
There is nothing worse than being micromanaged. Having someone tell you what to do and how to do it and then watch over you to make sure it gets done right. However, it is easy when you are new, or working with a new staff, to fall into the micromanaging trap. The fact is you are responsible for their work and you are unsure of what to expect from them. But this only creates more work for you and annoys your staff in the end. Instead, you could save yourself time and put trust in them and their abilities. You should remind yourself that they were hired for a reason and went through days/weeks of training to get them prepared for their position. By putting your faith in them, you are giving them the chance to show you they can do it. Not all of them will be perfect at their first go, but by giving them the opportunity you are able to separate those that need a little extra time and effort from those who thrive off independence.
Set them up for success
What your staff does and what it is you want them to do can sometimes be very different things. You cannot assume they know what you want or assume they can read your mind. It is your responsibility to set clear expectations and share them with your staff. The best time to set expectations is in the very beginning. It is easier for someone to be successful when they know what you want from the start. A good idea would be to have these expectations written out and everyone given a copy. Sometimes it can be beneficial to let your staff create additional expectations for themselves as individuals and as a team to establish buy-in from the group. Setting the expectations is only part of the process, it is also important that you hold them accountable to the expectations. Not only should your staff know what is expected of them, but what they can anticipate happening if they do not follow the expectations. Do not be afraid to hold them accountable because as long as you were clear from the start about what you wanted from them, you gave them the opportunity to be successful. You will also gain respect from those staff members that do follow the expectations because you are holding the others accountable.
Change is good
Obviously if you are a new supervisor or are supervising a new group, you are experiencing change. Sometimes change can be scary, especially if we are experiencing a lot of it at once. Our natural reaction may be to do things like we have done them before to make ourselves feel more comfortable in our new situation. That might be the wrong reaction to have. It may be better to sit back and see how things are functioning before you jump right in and change it to what you are use to. Believe it or not, your way might not be the best way to do things in this new environment. See how the group or system works before adding in your own changes. And remember just as you are experiencing a lot of change so are those you supervise and there are more of them then there are of you. It may help your dynamics with your new staff to incorporate needed change over time versus changing everything day one.
Invest your time
Whether you are new or your staff is new, there is probably a lot you do not know about those you supervise. Make time to get to know them. A common mistake is to spend too much time talking about your self and not enough time hearing about them. You are not expected to know everything about your staff but it is worth investing your time to discovering who they are as individuals. It is easier to understand team dynamics when you can identify the individual players’ strengths and weaknesses.
Keep it cool
It seems like something is always going on in residence life and we may need to react under stressful conditions. In these moments, it is so important to maintain your cool. If you freak out, your staff will freak out. You are the leader and they look to you to set the tone. If you can keep your cool with your staff, they will be calm and trust that you are in control and know what you are doing even if secretly in your head you are panicking.
Everybody makes mistakes
This one is plain and simple. If you make a mistake, do not be afraid to own up to it. No one likes working for people who think they are incapable of making a mistake and/or refuse to admit when they have done something wrong. The mistakes we make in life are what help us learn and grow. Your staff will make mistakes, guaranteed, and so will you. If you show your staff that admitting your mistakes is not something to be ashamed of, then your staff will likely be much more open with you when they too have made a mistake.
By no means will following all these tips make you the perfect supervisor. Supervision is something you learn over time through experience. Your supervision style will change as those you supervise change. These suggestions can give you a good start. Remember no one expects you to be perfect right out of the gate.
Submitted by Faye Perata, Residence Community Coordinator, California State University, Chico