Every Good Supervisor of Others . . .

Students come back to me or write to me: “Professor Mulhern (or usually, Dan), my manager clearly never took your class!” And they explain.  Many of these alums quit within 18, 12, even less than 6 months. Yes, they are “millennials,” but believe me, the supervisor tales they tell are unbelievably sad.  And the scary thing is these debilitated young people often work for top flight consulting firms, for firms that teach leadership development, and even for organizations that teach others how to create a culture that people want to work in.

So, when my friend Cathy who trains for the state department asked if I would ask you for input as she’s about to teach a class on “front line supervision,” I thought: YES! Let’s do this. Let’s get some data from my great readers.

So, I have crafted a SUPER short survey, asking you to answer one (or both) of two questions:

  1. What are the top 3-5 things you want(ed) from a front line supervisor for you to be successful?
  2. How important (1-10 scale) were specific supervisor behaviors are in terms of how essential you think they are.

Of course I will share your feedback with you next week, and Cathy has offered to share the feedback she is getting; she has asked her state department supervisors what they believe they need to be great front-line supervisors.

Thanks for helping us all to

Lead with our best selves.


  • Dan, first line supervisors are a critical element in an organization’s success. Get it “right”‘ with them and you’ve got a great path to success.

  • Recognizing the importance of frontline supervision, the very first management development program we initiated at a large hospital in Seattle was supervisory management. Supervisors in the hospital applied to teach the course, as well as other management courses for which our employee unions and the hospital’s administrative council agreed there was a need. Supervisors who were selected as faculty formed a leadership team headed by the hospital’s director of employee development and supplemented by a former White House fellow who had recent experience in leadership development.
    The leadership faculty team met periodically to ensure quality control and to learn from one another. To afford time for class preparation, follow up with training participants (fellow supervisors) and leadership team meetings, our in-house faculty members were given additional personnel to help cover their management responsibilities in the hospital. The curriculum for supervisory management, a video series on various management topics and conversations with employees that training participants would model right after viewing, proved very effective in developing appropriate management behaviors.
    All supervisors in the hospital were required to sign up for the course. Of no small significance was the fact that the hospital’s CEO and others on the administrative council all took the course in its first few months. In other words, if the course was important enough for the organization’s top administrators, it was good enough for all supervisors. After all, we were creating a learning community and distinct culture to carry out the hospital’s mission.
    The results – higher morale (employee satisfaction survey), less staff turnover, lower staff recruitment times, greater productivity, fewer medical errors, labor peace and more satisfied patients.
    The management development program was also instrumental in rolling out and providing the necessary training for the success of new management initiatives, for example, our performance appraisal system that actually improved performance, our self-funded health insurance program with health promotion incentives, and the employee assistance program to help employees resolve personal issues such as drug/alcohol abuse.

  • Dan, I enjoyed your short survey. As I completed it, a couple of things drifted into my daily fog. First, I wondered how differently this would be answered by older folks compared to the current mass of college students (many of whom have not worked for long under any supervisor). Secondly, I wondered about the word “their” in the first option of the second section. Should it have been “they’re” or dropped entirely? Hmm. It got my attention and I had to shake it off to continue. Finally, I wondered why there were two sixes in the rating spectrum. Was that a typo, or an interesting blip to stir questions in the minds of those completing it? Would it skew the results? I spent many years being supervised by academics thrust into that role, with no training and adamant resistance to being “trained” to supervise. Some were naturals and others were naturally bad. Ultimately, I found honesty and integrity to be chief demands on a supervisor, because without them, trust never develops.

  • >