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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

Get on the Floor (Particularly if You Supervise Other Leaders)

You can’t possibly understand the work that’s being performed if you aren’t on the floor. You have to see interchanges as they take place and the emotional relationships that people experience as they carry out their duties. And you can only see that if you are actually in the middle of the work itself.

We have this tendency as new leaders to get focused on the technical side of management, like making schedules, doing performance reviews, and filling out the endless paperwork that is required of us by Corporate or HQ. But where we need to really look is the actual performance of tasks - the process of work. This is what we act upon through the functions of leadership so that members of the group can be excellent.

This is one of the biggest challenges of becoming a second-level supervisor, where you supervise other leaders. This level of leadership has a very different view than that of a front-line leader, but this change isn't always obvious. It becomes more difficult to see the performance of work of the ground-level employees. Your understanding of interchanges and emotion reactions is interpreted through the eyes of your support leaders. You no longer hear how employees talk about their vision, nor do you directly see their experiments and learning. Unfortunately, your subordinate leaders will reveal the facts that make them look good, and minimize the more challenging circumstances. This is human nature, not necessarily malicious, but it complicates leadership at this level.

The solution as a second-level leader is to focus on verifying what you hear and validating what is actually occurring. You must look for signs that confirm what is reported to you. Overcoming the challenge of visibility, and having methods to interpret and validate the information from your subordinate leaders is critical to your success as a second-level leader.

It’s also important to know that this is different for every group of people. Just because you did a task a certain way as an individual contributor - or your team did it a certain way previously - doesn’t mean that the team you are leading right now is going to do it the same way. Your past experience will be different than theirs and your process will be different than theirs. This means you have to actually see how your team is working together now so that you can understand and influence the vision, relationships, and learning of the group.

When you see how your team does work, then you can start to build effective interchanges. Or helping people perform behaviors that create positive and productive emotional reactions. Or encourage experimentation with new ways to perform tasks. Or tell the story of a singular, shared vision. These practices, over time, build up into effective leadership, of course. But they begin when you observe what’s actually happening in real life.

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