Gaining Acceptance as a New Supervisor

Well, you've gotten that new position that you've been striving for. You're a manager now, supervising not (only) doing. Success is now a function of your group/team's output and performance, not just your own. Your ability to gain the acceptance of your team and get over any speed bumps quickly will be a function of how you approach this initial phase of your new position, and will dictate the time it takes to get them to a high level of productivity.

In All Situations:

In general there are several things to focus on at this stage: o Over-communicate: leadership abhors a vacuum. This time of transition is unsettling, and you can't let assumptions or unknowns poison the emotional make-up of the team.

o Over-listen: don't mistake over-communication for you doing all the talking. Ask questions fervently and listen intently to your team members' answers. Ask for their help regularly. o Walk the Talk: you will be watched more closely at this time than at most any other. You must show that you consistently act in accordance with what you say. o Be predictable: "What'll he do next?" is NOT a question you want coming into their minds.

Some Specific Challenges:

Certain unique circumstances in the beginning may require some specific approaches: o If one of your reports think that they should've gotten the job:

1. Tell the employee that you understand they thought they should've gotten the position, but that you need to move past that for the good of the team's performance. 2. Ask them what their qualifications for the position are, and whether they would concede any deficiencies in their experience. 3. Explain some of your qualifications that you think were used to select you to the position. 4. Offer to assist them in filling their qualification gaps, and improve any areas that might be holding them back, so that they are likely to be selected next time.

o When you've been promoted from within, old "pals" may try to continue that relationship by expecting

favoritism, leniency, and may push it all the way to insubordination. A firm but calm response is needed to assert your new authority without seeming heavy-handed or "power-mad." Usually the point can be well made by asking how they would feel if you were giving special treatment to someone else in the group to their detriment. o I have twice come into roles in replacement of someone who then reported to me with reduced duties. This situation is usually not as difficult as you might expect, because they probably knew that they weren't performing as well as necessary. Make sure that you reinforce how valuable their talents and experience are to the team in their new role. In both of my cases, the "old bosses" were excellent performers, and much happier, in their reduced roles. One told me that I "saved his life." o "Meet your new boss, same as their old boss" is potentially the most difficult situation. You'll need to work very hard and closely with your boss to avoid the two main traps:

1. The "that's not the way I would have done it" syndrome, and 2. The employee going around you to the old boss in a conflict situation (the childhood tactic of going to Mom when Dad says "no").

An understanding must be developed and maintained with the "old" boss to stay out of these two traps. It is really out of your direct control, and may take all of your diplomatic and conflict management skills!

What's the most difficult issue you've dealt with as a new supervisor?

Coming Next: Team Building Basics

(C) 2011 Martin Bergstedt. Used by permission.

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In answer to the question posed, the most difficult situation I experienced was supervising new people but then being undermined by my boss who put me in the the position to begin with. It was a political move on this person's part to create disaster and blame it on others but I managed to get out of this situation without losing the respect of my subordinates. They were smart enough to see what was going on.

mbergstedt's picture

Yes! By effectively gaining the acceptance of your team, they "had your back" and you succeeded! Well done.

Douglas Clark's picture

I was once hired to replace a manager who was moving to another position. Unfortunately, he didn't exactly move on, because he was constantly looking over my shoulder and telling staff what to do behind my back--even when completely contrary to what I had already told them. Upper management turned a blind eye to it, which put both staff members and me in a very difficult situation that was only fully resolved when the other manager finally left the company. Lesson: only accept a management position if you will truly have authority to manage!

mbergstedt's picture

Douglas, how did your team respond during this difficult situation?

Douglas Clark's picture

It depended from one person to the next. Generally, those who had been with the company longer (and had thus been under the other manager longer) were loyal to the other manager, and newer people were more loyal to me. It pretty much was an uncomfortable situation until the other manager left, but his leaving did change things for the better for certain.

Robert S's picture

Great list! Thanks for putting this information all in one place, great starting place for conversations and further research.