Gut Rumbles

June 22, 2004

supervising people

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.


I might just take the liberty of submitting this to Carnival of the Capitalists. It's on topic and people would probably appreciate the observations.

Posted by: Jay Solo on June 22, 2004 09:23 AM

You are definitely on a roll this week--a fine description. I work in a manufacturing environment and I have seen every one of those. The worst case scenario? We actually had a #1 as the President of our company for the last 4 years. He finally got his comeuppance early this year and "retired". The acclaim was unanimous--"good riddance".

Posted by: Deliverance on June 22, 2004 09:34 AM

Go ahead, Jay. When have I ever turned you down on that kind of offer?

And D-Man, I've worked for and around every person I described. I KNOW that "good riddance" feeling.

Posted by: Acidman on June 22, 2004 09:42 AM

Hey Acidman, your observations are keen indeed. I Find myself as a #4 but sometimes have tendencies towards #3. I do agree with you on that "good riddance" feeling. Our company just cleaned house and a couple of "stuporvisors" are missing. I am just beginning the process of growth here and one day look to being the proud owner of my own business. I too would like to share your observations with a few compadres of mine.

Posted by: Chelle on June 22, 2004 09:53 AM

I volunteered for an early retirement because of those types you just described, after 8 years of downsizing that was all that was left in the management pool, a horrible bunch of sycophants that couldn't breath with out their noses stuck up each others asses. I miss the work environment and the good workers but not one of the supervisors, the irony was they were terminated when the company was taken over by a rival company. Good riddance.

Posted by: Jack on June 22, 2004 02:47 PM

I work for a supervisor who can't reprimand another employee without using a co-worker as the complainer. "Joe is complaining that you are always late and is tired of setting up by himself" It drives me nuts! Any suggestions?

Posted by: Paul on September 13, 2004 08:47 AM

One you missed out - can't think of a title though!

"He's come from another company or industry that does things #just so#. And he can't understand why all his crew cannot turn around in a day and work the same way.
He's #so good# at what he does, he gets in everyone's way trying to fix it, when those who are paid to do that are trying to get on with it. Thing is, he probably makes it worse in the process.
He'll document everything in sight, and get senior management to countersign it all. And then file it in a system that no-one else can understand.
He'll host two-to-three hour meetings to discuss stuff and bore everyone senseless in the process."

Posted by: Steve on July 17, 2007 09:30 AM

I guess I have a question if someone could help me out on this? I am supervising 1 employee, just 1 and for some reason this person is more difficult to supervise than if I had 20 people. The person will not inform me of what is going on. They hide screw ups that have delayed projects, and try to blame someone else other than admitting they were wrong. They will spend so much time trying to figure out how they weren't wrong. Not able to multi task. Will jump through hoops for other employees who walk in to the office but will not response to what I ask of them.
I am so feed up with dealing with this BULL. Then the person always has the I'm so Sweet (voice) that it makes me puke!!!!!

This is bad to say, but I wish this person was not here!!!

Posted by: Deb on July 23, 2009 01:43 PM
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