It’s often said that great supervisors focus on the whole picture, not the little brush strokes. But one of the paradoxes of leadership is that for supervisors to focus on the whole picture, they must also be skillful in the simple art of observation.
“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” – Marilyn Vos Savant
In order to zoom in when necessary, a supervisor must practice a lifestyle of continually paying attention to the people who work for him or her.
“When you have dialogues with your employees,” says Nancy, one of our most experienced supervisors. “they will tell you all sorts of things even if you don’t ask them directly. If you just listen to the things people say, over time you will hear what each employee needs to be truly successful.”
Nancy says she honed her human observation skills through parenting.
“As my kids were growing up, one was definitely an athlete and the other was definitely a singer,” Nancy says. “So I had ‘the athlete’ and ‘the artist’ – two very different personality types. Sometimes, she would say, “That’s not fair! He got this and I didn’t!” or he would say, “It’s not fair! She got to do something and I didn’t get to!” I always told them that as parents it’s our responsibility to make sure our children have what they need to be successful, not necessarily the same things. I am finding as a supervisor, it’s a very similar process.”
At work, Nancy combines her big-picture vision and her up-close observation to help all of her team members succeed. Recently, this combination of skills came in handy when her team was reading and discussing a particular book together as part of their HOT Targets. After the project began, she noticed two team members struggling to keep up. She pulled each of them aside for a private chat. One team member revealed that they had always struggled with reading, while the other employee revealed that her work load was exceptionally heavy at the time. To keep the team reading project on track and enjoyable for these two team members, Nancy provided a shortened Cliff Notes version of the book for both.
Some might criticize this approach as unfair – no other team members were offered the Cliff Notes version. But there was no problem for the team when Nancy communicated the big picture: her goal was that each team member would get the most possible out of the book and group discussions, and that it would be a bonding experience for the team. In order for that to happen, individual needs had to be addressed. Because she was paying attention to detail, Nancy was able to communicate the big picture effectively.
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