Gut Rumbles

August 09, 2008

Supervising people

originally published June 22, 2004

I spent almost half of my life bossing people in a chemical plant. I've often wondered about what made me good at it; I didn't learn it college, that's for sure. I always wanted to be a writer, but I ended up going where the money was and I have no regrets about that decision. It paid off in the long run.

At one of the too numerous to remember training seminars I attended, the man running the show asked everybody in the room to define the role of a supervisor. I heard all kinds of cliche, textbook answers about being a coach, a motivator, a mentor, a leader and blah, blah blah. When it was my turn to answer, I tried to say what I REALLY thought my job was.

"I set high standards and compel people to meet them."

That's it in a nutshell. That's what a good supervisor does. I can't tell you HOW to do it, because I don't believe that anyone has a set formula that works for everybody. Maybe the military comes close, but even there, certain individuals stand out as simply being better than others, even though everyone is reading the same rule book.

I've seen several different types of bosses in my life. Some I liked and some I didn't, but I tried to learn something from every one of them.

#1) The Pompous Martinet. I learned what NOT to do by watching these strutting popinjays. They love their title, being bullies at heart, and they get their rocks off by trying to intimidate underlings. They hand out punishment at the drop of a hat, but nobody respects them because they ENJOY that aspect of their job too much. They are the kind of people who like pulling one wing off a horsefly, just to watch it spin in a circle.

#2) I'm Your Best Friend. I never understood those guys, either. A supervisor cannot AFFORD to be "friends" with his crew. Cordial relationships are good, but if you EVER try to be friends with the folks you supervise, they'll eat you alive and laugh about it afterward. If your goal in life is to be liked by everyone around you, don't take a job in supervison.

#3) The Wiz-Bang Glory Boy. I must confess that I have a lot of traits that fit this classification. These supervisors take calculated risks, make decisions, never dodge responsibility and usually boss a crew that would follow them straight through the gates of hell if he said to go there. But sometimes the Glory Boy forgets his obligations to his crew and thinks too much of his own career and the spotlight he seeks. Such people can be dangerous.

#4) The Quietly Competent. You don't hear a lot of noise out of these supervisors. They just show up every day, do a good job and generally have a crew that does a good job, too. They rule with a velvet glove, but they rule just the same. They know their shit, but don't feel the need to brag about it. You almost never see one of the Quietly Competent fuck up. Glory Boys do.

#5) The Professional Ass-Kisser. This is the kind of supervisor I hold in utter comtempt. He's a politician at heart and he doesn't give a shit about his crew OR doing a good job. He just wants to ingratiate himself to HIS boss, and he'll sacrifice anybody he needs to along the way. Never trust one of those bastards, and they are everywhere.

#6) The Blithering Idiot. You often see these people and wonder just how in the hell they got where they are. Maybe it's the Peter Principle. Whatever the reason, such people are in WAAAY over their heads and they don't swim very well. Their crews don't trust them, they shit their pants when they're supposed to be making decisions and their most common response to a crisis is: "It's not MY fault," even when it is. I didn't like to work anywhere around them.

The next time you vote for a politician, figure out which category he fits before you pull that lever.

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