Your work is unacceptable...but anyway, what are you doing this weekend?
November 19, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

How do you elicit respect -- while still being liked -- in a supervisory position?

I'd like to run my staff where they do what I ask of them, but still be able to grab a beer after work.
posted by Christ, what an asshole to Human Relations (28 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
You are not an equal, and don't try to pretend that you are. That's a good way to loose both respect and friendship. if you want to grab a beer, then you do the inviting, and you pay more than your share, becuase you're the one with the power and the salary. in general, worry about being fair. Don't worry about being liked. Giving people what they deserve will earn respect and the friendship of all but the undeserving. Worrying about being liked is just pathetic, and nobody can respect or like that. I say this as someone who has the experience of not following my own advice.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:03 PM on November 19, 2010 [21 favorites]

I just don't think you can count on this dynamic being achievable in every workplace or with every group of employees. The balance you seek is real, and it is indeed awesome, but it just isn't always realistic.

Nonetheless, there are some necessary ingredients without which I doubt you could do this in any setting:
-There has to be actual mutual respect, not just an understanding that there OUGHT to be mutual respect.
-They have to actually like you/have stuff in common with you past a certain threshold.
-They can't be completely disengaged from the work itself, but it also doesn't work in all-encompassing workplaces where no one does anything but eat sleep and drink whatever it is you do at work.

And one other thing: you just have to learn to be cool with being left out of some things the employees do. Even just bitching about clients, the broken air--conditioning, or other things that everyone agrees aren't YOUR fault is much more comfortable without the boss around. If you're relaxed and not-weird about that, it goes a long way.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:04 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had been thinking of a whole long thing, but the bottom line is that if you respect them, they will respect you.
posted by kellyblah at 12:05 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Be fair, make sure that the decisions you make are well-communicated and understood by your employees, and don't forget that, even if you are friends outside of the workplace, wherever you are, you still have to hold yourself to the standards you would inside the workplace.
posted by xingcat at 12:07 PM on November 19, 2010

kellyblah said exactly what I was going to say. I'm an executive secretary to CEOs and my best managers have treated me like an equal, even though I clearly am not. Trust people to do their jobs and treat them like they're as smart and capable as you are.
posted by something something at 12:09 PM on November 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

Based on your title-if someone isn't doing an acceptable job, it's their problem. If you have to talk to them about it, listen to their response. Don't say "X needs to change," and end the conversation. Say "X needs to change, why haven't these deadlines/quotas/whatever being met?" and then listen and consider the answer. If the response is valid, see if anything can be done about it. If not, don't be afraid to tell them, and why.

Basically, be fair, take them and their concerns seriously, don't get caught up in gossip. If you have to do something unpopular, let them know why you're doing it and you understand it's unpopular but it still needs to be done because of X, Y, and Z. And don't blame it on YOUR boss, that just makes you look like a wimp.
posted by AlisonM at 12:10 PM on November 19, 2010

* haven't aren't
posted by AlisonM at 12:10 PM on November 19, 2010

I never ask anyone to do something I wouldn't do myself. I've produced home makeover shows, and picking up dog poop was one of those tasks.
Don't have favorites. Fair but firm.
Treat people as equals, but don't confuse your team with your friends. You're not going to gripe to them about your issues with your superiors, your family, or your colleagues. You don't have to be aloof and distant, but you shouldn't use a subordinate (who has no means of tactful escape) as a sounding board.

The blog, Save the Assistants, shows lots of examples of boss bad behaviour.

Don't correct someone in public, unless he/she has done something to endanger others, and even then, private is better. But catch people doing a good job, and let them know you appreciate it.

If you go out for beers, buy a round, drink your beer, and leave, so they can enjoy themselves without the boss hanging around.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Stick up for your staff when other management (whether at your same level or higher) does something that takes advantage of them. There are a lot of scenarios in which this could come to play -- a manager of another department tries to (unjustly) blame your guys for a project being late, for example; upper management decides your team will double their work but you can't hire anyone else to help take on the added work load; etc.

Even if you can't fix the problem, you can defend their interests/needs to other managers. Every manager I've ever seen who fails to do this -- whether out of fear, desire to avoid conflict, propensity toward ass-kissing, whatever -- has failed to earn the respect of their people.
posted by scody at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

You have to be fair, and reasonable, and consistent and predictable. You have to keep your staff as informed as you are able. You have to treat them with respect and have clear expectations. You have to listen to them and support them. If you disagree with them and/or cannot give them what they want, give them the reason for that. They may not want to accept it, but at least have that conversation. If you have laid the groundwork as above, you will be in better shape to give them bad news. You will be able to have a beer with some of them. But the reality is that you are their boss, and some of them will only ever see you that way.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:14 PM on November 19, 2010

Be good at your job. This is the only reason I genuinely respect anyone in the workplace. I certainly strive to act professionally and politely at all times regardless, but that's a separate thing.
posted by ecurtz at 12:14 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

To add to yeolcoatl, don't ever bitch about your duties, workplace, others, etc in front of your staff. Be on time. Know how to perform whatever duties your staff has to perform (to a decent degree). Don't micromanage. Accept responsibility. Praise when earned. Deal with problems immediately. Have clear expectations. Follow your word. Trust your staff.

I don't know your industry or age of you and your staff. But I would be wary of going for a beer with my supervisor, because I like to drink and be stupid, and not have that known at work. I think a better approach is some sort of staff dinner or lunch out. Being at a bar with a supervisor has been odd for me, dinner/lunch is way less stressful.

I had a supervisor once who tried to act like a cool older sister, and she was only a few years older than me and my coworkers. She was too lenient, and then followed up by being too strict. She consistently didn't know her own job, and almost had us all fired because of a hasty temper. And she wondered why we didn't want to be around her on our breaks.
posted by shinyshiny at 12:18 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'd like to run my staff where they do what I ask of them, but still be able to grab a beer after work.

You have to realize they're human and give respect, while being fair and human to them. It's ok to push employees, but to do that well, you have to praise them when they succeed and help them, not berate them, when they fail. In both cases, you should still be helping them and have an open door policy.

Cop to your business/office mistakes. Be thankful when employees point them out (in a professional fashion). YOu can't do it all, you need them. NEED THEM.

On the other hand, don't take shit or be a doormat. You're still in charge and it's still a business. Bill may be having marriage issues and you might be lenient about his hours for bit, but he still has responsibilities to the job and they need to be met or you're find someone else.

Also remember, you can't a beer with everyone. For people, who will be very good employees, the last thing they want is to repeatedly hang out with the boss after hours. They have a life and you're not part of it because they do not want you to be part of it. Respect that.
posted by nomadicink at 12:19 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Always remember that while you may be prepared to do [thing], it doesn't necessarily follow that anyone else is prepared to do [thing]. My supervisor once asked me to do something that I wasn't prepared to do, with the excuse that she was prepared to do it. Since we were friendly, I responded with "well, you do it then". It didn't go over very well with either of us.

Respect the fact that individuals may be less friendly now that you're in a position of superiority to them. Especially if you have to reprimand them about something. On one occasion, my boss reprimanded me about something I'd done wrong. It was a silly mistake on my part, and she was right to call me up over it. I didn't have a problem with that. What I did have a problem with was the fact that less than an hour later, she couldn't understand why I was refusing to spend time talking to her about her personal problems (which is something that had gone on before). The first reason is that I didn't want to be told off by [other boss] for not getting my work done and the second reason is that I thought it best, going forward, to be more professional in my dealings with her.

Are you new blood to this team, or do you have history with them. That will affect the outcome. Remember, too, that you're relying on other personalities to handle this the way YOU want it to be handled. I think you'll quickly find that other people will do what they are comfortable with, which won't necessarily be what you want.
posted by Solomon at 12:28 PM on November 19, 2010

Also, and I say this with the best of intentions, you sound slightly needly. That last thing many employees want is to HAVE to go out with the boss 'cause they are bored or don't have family. Don't be that boss.
posted by nomadicink at 12:41 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you new blood to this team, or do you have history with them. That will affect the outcome.

Yeah, I was gonna ask this, did you come to get your position? That's important.
posted by world b free at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2010

The one thing my favorite bosses have had in common is that they were able and willing to stand up to other departments on behalf of our team. Not only did that show the boss truly cared about the team's well-being, but no one wants to mess with a supervisor who can throw down with upper management and win.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:45 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do not phrase directions as suggestions. If you want them to do something, say so. Trying to get people to do something without actually asking/telling them to do it can come off as passive aggressive or just spineless. This is related to the ask/guess dynamic, but this being a professional relationship, particularly a supervisor/supervised relationship, means that clarity is ultimately going to be better for everyone. Guessing doesn't work very well in large organizations which almost necessarily lack a uniform social culture.

Also, whatever you do, stick up for your employees and let them know you're doing it. I've felt really thrown under the bus by my boss on a couple of occasions only to learn weeks or months later that after I complained about something he went and fixed it. 'course, he has thrown me under the bus a couple of times, so the suspicion wasn't entirely unfounded, but our relationship would be a lot better if I knew he was sticking up for us when he actually does so.

Recognize that your employees may be frustrated with you but not tell you about it. That's because you're their boss, and complaining to the boss is frequently more trouble than it's worth. This means that it's going to fall on you to keep at least loose tabs on morale and be willing to initiate conversations. These are going to go better if you've demonstrated that you're a reasonable person and willing to stick up for them.

On the whole though, while you can probably achieve a sort of camaraderie with your employees, the fact that you aren't strictly peers is never going to go away. Respect is probably what's more important here. You'll probably be better able to establish proper friendships with similarly situated managers in different departments.
posted by valkyryn at 1:23 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lots of good responses here. I would add that perhaps the best way to be genuinely liked by your staff is to stand up for them against your superiors. The only boss I ever had that I actually liked (and am still friends with a couple of decades later) was ferocious in his protection of his staff. He told us we were the best in the city, and when the managerial types criticized us he had no hesitation about telling them to go to hell. Which is to say, he was utterly un-corporate, and kept his job only because he was demonstrably so damn good at what he did. As a matter of fact, once they got fed up enough to talk about letting him go, and they offered me his position; I refused the offer and told them there was no way I could do his job and they'd be fools to let him go. That's the kind of loyalty you can get if you're willing to go that route. If that's not a possibility, then you have to fall back on the usual highly qualified respect/semi-affection that is the lot of the standard-issue "good boss." But don't try to make it more than it is, and for god's sake don't try to get them to go out for beers with you as if you were all pals together. You're not.
posted by languagehat at 1:49 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

First part of the question has been covered very well. Be good at your job, be yourself, be fair, and assuming you have higher-ups, stand up for your troops.

Second part - eh. Also been covered, but I'd like to Nth, and maybe put more strongly - learn the difference between being on friendly terms and being friends.

Your work will probably cause you to spend a lot of hours together; you'll learn about each other's families; you might send holiday cards to each other; there might be some lunches and drinks along the way, BUT...

I have zero interest in hanging around my bosses outside of normal hours, and I imagine my subordinates feel the same way about me. This is not to say we don't like and respect each other; I think we do. I have employees and ex-employees I would even say I love, in a way. But we still don't hang out.

Friends, OTOH, are for venting, dickheadery, GRIPING ABOUT WORK, pursuing other interests, etc. etc. etc.

I say this as a veteran of a family business, which meant every time my Dad, Mom, and brother got together, we talked about - you guessed it. And every life decision had 360 degree consequences.

Further, are you really as interested in being great friends with ALL of your employees? Or just a handful of the cool ones? Assuming not, how are you going to be fair, and maintain the appearance of fairness, when certain of your employees socialize with you and others aren't invited?

I know that many Gen Xers and down will disagree with me on this, and I'm sure there are happy exceptions, but I think it's a good rule.

What to do about friends? Hobbies, church (if you go), peers who are of your rank but not in your report chain, if you work for a large enough place, and even then, be careful... most of my close friends I've really gained through my hobbies, I think. Outside interests are more a predictor of being wired similarly than much of anything else.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:02 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're going to criticise something about someone's work, or ask them to change something, find something to praise them for too. They'll take criticism much better (and work 1000% harder) if it comes with an implied belief that they're capable.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:06 PM on November 19, 2010

All good advice here. The supervisor must be mature, fair, tough, clearly the leader, and take care of business. 'Friends' is aside from the point.

The size of your staff has a bearing on this. For a small staff, say a half-dozen, you can be their squad leader, buy them beer, and share complaints about the challenges in their jobs (often about idiot upper management, always a source of mirth), but within reason, of course. Don't get plastered, that would be too Salary-Man. But really, don't expect to be friends. Comrades is the best you can expect.

For a larger staff, a bit of emotional distance is much easier to manage. You can take them out and buy the first round, but please leave early.

(Personally, I have become good friends with some of my supervisors).
posted by ovvl at 4:32 PM on November 19, 2010

Two things will help you accomplish this: be worthy of respect, and be respectful.

Thing #1: Conduct your business in an above-board way. If your team needs something to complete their work, make sure you get it for them. If they need to be aware of something, let them know. Lay out expectations as crystal-clearly as you can, and hold them accountable. Don't promise anything you can't deliver, and keep them in the loop. Do not gossip, or encourage gossip.

Thing #2: Understand that your team is not just a legion of worker bees to do your bidding, but human beings. Find out what's important to them, and inquire about it occasionally. Help them, wherever possible, to advance or learn. Never yell, or talk down to them, or treat them poorly. Do not play favorites, but at the same time, recognize that you don't have to treat them equally per se, but at least equitably (i.e. the go-getter who wants to be a Senior VP someday and is working on moving up, versus the person who is already completely satisfied where they are and want to stay in that type of role until retirement).

Oh, and if you really want them to come out with you for beers, pay for it.
posted by mornie_alantie at 7:43 PM on November 19, 2010

My boss and I are friends and can socialize over lunch or beer. I respect him because he is honest, trustworthy, considerate, ethical, fair, smart, and always explains his decisions or requests.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:53 PM on November 19, 2010

I am in a supervisory position, and have learnt the hard way - some aspects have been mentioned previously.

Here are some tips in no set order

They are not your friends, but you must be friendly

Saying "No" requires a good reason and explanation

Be there when they start in the morning, be the last to leave

Give them the credit, you take the blame - In meetings, its' always "we did this" not "I did this" unless it's "I screwed up" - never "we screwed up" or "Pete screwed up"

Delegate as much as possible, but pitch in when required

Don't be afraid to criticize - but be constructive as in "Hmm, that's cool, but if you try it this way..."

If a team member is being disciplined, don't deal with it publicly, nor discuss the issues with the team. When it's over help rehabilitate the team member - forget it and move on.

Try to get them to take ownership of a process or project - that fosters a team spirit and pride in their work.
posted by the noob at 5:35 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Echoing some of the above, mostly asssuming you are new to the environment:

1- If your role is purely a supervisory, traditional boss-employee one, you need to want to act like someone you'd like to work for, and also be the best employee you can to YOUR boss. If you can visualize those competing goals and make them both work, you are doing pretty well.

2- I'm not a giant fan of the "be your employees' protector" thing to the extent that you start becoming a firewall between your team and the company. Part of the boss role is to make the employees feel as though they are a positive part of the organization as a whole, not just as part of your group. There is a balance, and sometimes you have to let your employees feel some of the heat so they don't become entrenched and stagnant. Never sell out your people, of course, but let them fight their own battles and make their own pitches too, sometimes.

3- Think of the boss/supervisory role as that of a coach. As in, like a head football coach or the baseball manager. That means you have to purposely have a different view of "the field" (the work product) than they do. This means, sometimes, having to readjust their priorities from what they think they are.

4- Never use sarcasm or emotion when discussing work policy, expectations or performance. Sarcasm is fun, but it is just not appropriate in the workplace. At least as far as official-type communication goes. When someone fails to meet expectations, do not make it about their having disappointed you, their boss. Because neither of you are there for your feelings, you are there to get a job done.

5- Keep your eyes on the prize- everything you do needs to focus on the work product. You can't let petty disagreements or the fact that you had to correct behavior earlier in the day affect what's going on now. Both between yourself and your people, and between members of the team. And you need to do this by example.

6- There is no reason in the world to believe that you *can't* be friends- everyone has friends from different backgrounds, different professions, etc. Anyone who approaches their role of "boss" from that kind of "don't fraternize" perspective is doing everyone a disservice. (Unless you are literally in the armed forces.) People will feel that attitude and it will add a subtle layer of mistrust. But any relationships that exist outside the workplace need to remain there. Maintaining fairness, and an atmosphere of fairness, is key to good job performance. Don't hide personal relationships, but never let them affect job performance.

If you aren't new to the environment, but new to the role, you need to basically do the same stuff as above, but also:

Have a meeting that clearly lays out the fact that your personal feelings of friendship haven't changed, but that when you are doing your job, that is irrelevant. The relationship needs to compartmentalize.
posted by gjc at 9:41 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention:

Respect in the workplace is trust. They trust that you are doing your job well, and to the best of your ability. They need to trust that confidences will be kept, that if they do it your way that the job will get done. They need to trust that even if you did go out drinking with a couple of the team members, that you'd tear them a new one just as much as anyone else for showing up hung over.

So while it is OK for bosses to be friends, if that's how it works out, it definitely isn't OK for the boss to try to be friends. Again, they need to be able to trust you, and some needy person trying to be everyone's friend isn't trustworthy- might be seen as someone who would value friendship over work.

It's sort of like being a parent, too. Your team will need different things from you, and you need to be able to give them what they need. Sometimes even if that fosters resentment. If someone needs an emergency three days off because their mother had a heart attack, there may well be complainers who will say you are playing favoritism by letting them slide on the rules. From a theoretical perspective, this is OK, as long as everyone else would get the same slack.
posted by gjc at 9:53 AM on November 20, 2010

And I forgot to mention, loss of respect is irrevocable. There is nothing you can do about it. Be very careful with it and treat your position with - respect.
posted by the noob at 6:05 PM on November 20, 2010

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