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Some people are born to be good supervisors. For the rest of us, it can be a lifelong process to know ourselves as leaders and supervisors. The first time I had to discipline a staff person, I got sick to my stomach.  I was a new supervisor, promoted within a dept. where I had previously been a staff member. This person had been a peer prior to my promotion.  Throughout the whole process of counseling, documenting and engaging in corrective action, I felt like I was going to die at any moment.  I knew I had to fire this person, but I first engaged in every avoidant technique I could find. When I could not avoid it anymore, I spent the night before vomiting.

Most of my early supervisory experience did not involve termination or even correction, but all of it came with that same feeling in the pit of my stomach. What was I afraid of? There isn’t space for a list that long.

I see similar fears in supervisors at all stages of their careers, but mostly from those early in their supervisory positions. We can teach people all kinds of “techniques” and provide tools but they won”t be enough.  Supervision is about leadership and learning about oneself is the most important for a leader.

There is another piece to the puzzle as well; what do you know about your staff”s perceptions? You may feel that you are “hands-off” boss, empowering your staff to manage themselves, while they may feel that you are disengaged. You may think you’re a “hands-on” boss, while they feel you are a micromanager. There may also be cultural issues that influence perceptions.

All of these issues are manageable, but they require some thought and some risk-taking. At my upcoming Nonprofit HR Conference workshop session, “Effective Supervisory Feedback,” we will share some of the current tools and best practices, as well as those intangible elements involved in leadership, and engage in peer-to-peer sharing and learning.

John Magisano is the Principal of John Magisano Consulting. He is presenting “Biggest Tool in the Tool Shed — Feedback” on Tuesday, October 9th at 11:15 AM during the 2012 Nonprofit Human Resources Conference.

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