How to Be a Super Supervisor

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By David Lee

What are the “differences that make a difference” that separate mediocre bosses from great bosses? Reflecting on the feedback I’ve gotten over the years from employees and the research on what matters most, I pulled together 11 things that you must do if you’re serious about optimizing employee performance.

Some of these strategies require almost no extra time investment; others require some time and energy. However, I promise that if you do make the effort, you will dramatically increase your ability to bring out the best in your people.

To Become a “Super Supervisor":

  1. Remember, everything matters. Pay attention to each interaction, each decision, and each communication with your people. This practice is often called “mindfulness.” Rather than running on autopilot while you interact with others or just “winging it” when making a decision that affects your staff, focus completely on each task. Consider your methods and the potential impact of your decisions. Ask yourself:
    —Is this how I would like to be treated?
    —How will my actions affect morale, engagement, and trust?
    —Do my actions communicate respect?
  2. Get internal customer feedback. Ask your people what you can do to be a better supervisor. Ask them:
    —Think about the best supervisor you ever had. What did he or she do—and not do—to be a great supervisor?
    —What was the most meaningful recognition or praise you’ve ever received? What made it so meaningful?
    —Can you tell me about a time that you felt a supervisor “blew it” in the way he dealt with you?
    —What do I do that gets in the way of your doing your job well?
    —What do I do that drives you crazy?
  3. Become a better listener. The more you truly listen to what your people say, the more they will feel that you value and respect them, the less negativity you’ll have to deal with, the more they will care about what YOU have to say, and the more engaged they will be.
  4. Make it safe for people to speak up. It’s one thing to ask people for their feedback, but it’s quite another to make sure that they feel comfortable responding honestly. Learn how to make it safe for your employees to speak honestly and openly about any workplace issues. Remember, “Power may bring immunity from feedback, but not reality.”

    There is no such thing as consequence-free behavior. Just because employees don’t say to their boss “It really makes me mad that you do such and such…” doesn’t mean there are no consequences for the boss who engages in that behavior. Passive-aggressive behaviors, negativity, diminished engagement, unscheduled accidents, theft, turnover, and workers comp fraud are all ways employees express their unhappiness with how they are treated.

    It’s less costly to get them to talk about it. So, invest in training and coaching that will enable you and your staff to create and maintain open communication.
  5. Act like a real person, not a boss. Some supervisors express concern that if they “let their guard down” (translated: if they act and talk like a real person), their employees will try to take advantage of them or will lose respect for them. So, rather than just being themselves, they project a persona, almost like a bad actor overacting the role of “boss” in a third-rate play. Interacting with employees in an overly formal, “always on” way makes it difficult for people to relate to you and to bond with you. If your employees don’t feel connected to you they won’t be motivated to do a great job for you.
  6. Confront bad behavior and poor performance quickly and decisively. Few things damage morale and respect faster than a supervisor who isn’t willing to deal with bad behavior and poor performance. Everyone sees the behavior and waits for you to do take action. So, do something.
  7. Always look for the good. When you notice and acknowledge your employees’ positive contributions to the team and the organization, you motivate them to repeat that great behavior.
  8. Express appreciation. Never take your people for granted. Few things kill engagement and discretionary effort faster than the feeling that one’s efforts aren’t noticed and appreciated.
  9. Show that you care about your people as individuals. It’s easy to act “all business” if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities and/or you have a personality style that focuses more on tasks than on relationships. But research shows that when employees feel that their boss truly cares about them it has a huge positive effect on their performance. They are less likely to miss work, have accidents, file workers compensation claims, steal, or quit. And, they are more likely to recommend their employer to friends and family.

    Here are some ways to show you care:
    —Take the time to find about who they are outside of work.
    —Ask them how things are going.
    —If they share something from their personal life (e.g. someone’s daughter is going off to college; someone is going to a  Patriot’s game this weekend), check in with them to see how it went.
    —When an employee submits a request (information, resources, vacation days, etc.) give their request the same priority you would if it came from your boss.
    —Do what you can to remove red tape and other obstacles that make it hard for people to do their work.
  10. Model courtesy and civility. Because they so often feel overwhelmed by e-mails, voice mails, and a heavy workload, many people in the workplace don’t bother with the simple courtesies that make relationships work. When we ignore these, we signal to others that they don’t matter, that we don’t care about them.

    People who are treated without courtesy and civility become demotivated; they feel that their work doesn’t really matter. (“Why should I care…nobody else does?”).

    Here are some easy ways to show courtesy and respect:
    —Always return phone calls and e-mails. A five-second “got it, thanks” reply not only respects people’s time and effort, it also shows that you care how you affect them.
    —Say “Please” and “Thank you.”
    —Show up to meetings and coaching sessions on time.
    —Apologize when you make a mistake or act disrespectfully.
  11. Spread goodwill. Whenever you act in a thoughtful, considerate, generous way, you inspire others to do the same. By consciously looking for opportunities to spread goodwill, you not only increase the odds that your team will have high morale and want to do their best, you will—by influencing how they treat others—have a positive impact on your entire organization.

Don’t be afraid to make a few changes in your management style. With some concerted, ongoing effort, you’ll soon find that you’ve become a “super supervisor.”

About the Author(s)

David Lee is the founder of and an internationally recognized authority on optimizing employee performance.  He is the author of Managing Employee Stress and Safety as well as dozens of articles. is the founder of and an internationally recognized authority on optimizing employee performance.  He is the author of Managing Employee Stress and Safety as well as dozens of articles.