For many, once they join the workforce, and begin “reporting to a boss ”, it doesn’t take long for them to think about becoming the boss. Whether an employee thinks that they could “do a better job” than their boss, or they are looking to advance their career, moving into a first-level manager position is always a major event in an employee’s life.

Ram Charan, Steven Drotter, and James Noel noted in their book, The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company (Charan, R. Drotter, S., and Noel, J., 2001), “when a person is promoted to their first management position, they often think that they have it made.”  That’s right – they’ve finally made it!  In reality, to be successful as a first-level leader, (or supervisor as it is often titled), requires a major transition. So, let’s step back and consider the role of supervisor.

As an individual contributor, each employee is responsible for the work that is required in their role.  Although they may work closely with others and be expected to be an effective team member, each employee must complete their assignment, produce  results, etc.  In other words, success is “up to them”.  As a supervisor, you must “work through others” which is a huge change.

For years, E.A.S.I-Consult® has been helping companies identify employees who are most likely to succeed as supervisors.  And, the set of skills that define an effective supervisor, compared to an effective individual contributor, are quite different.  To begin, as mentioned, a supervisor must be able to accomplish work “through other people,” and that requires a major shift from being an employee with capabilities that underlie “individual success” to a person who “leads a team of other employees to success.”

Exactly what is required to succeed in both situations?  For an individual contributor key capabilities include the following:  1) applicable technical and professional expertise, 2) working well with others/teamwork, 3) problem solving, 4) dependability/personal discipline, and 5) personal motivation.

These are the critical capabilities for a supervisor:  1) planning (projects, budgets, etc.), 2) delegation of work based upon employee’s roles/capabilities, 3) motivating each employee, 4) providing feedback/coaching and managing performance, 5) ongoing communication, 6) adaptability/agility, and 7) leading continuous improvement.

As you can see, these two jobs are quite different.  However, whenever a supervisor position opens, many companies simply think, “Who is our top individual contributor in this department/area?”  Let’s promote him/her to the supervisor position, and most individual contributors are thrilled when they are told that they are being promoted.  Unfortunately, this often leads to a disaster, since the required skill sets of individual contributors and supervisors are so different.

Imagine a Major League Baseball team that needs to hire a manager, and they recognize their best outfielder and – without any assessment or training – they make him the new manager.  That team is not likely to have a winning season.  Yet, this often happens in corporations.

But, with today’s scarce labor market, what is an organization to do?  Simple – assess all viable candidates to determine their current level of supervisor skills, as well as their potential to rapidly learn and acquire these skills.  Not just any assessment will work.  It must be validated to ensure that it truly measures the specific supervisor skills – and the importance of each skill – for the specific role in the specific organization.

Finally, after using the proper assessment, and selecting the candidate who demonstrates the capability to best move into this supervisor position, what’s next?  A recent Harvard Business Review article by David Sluss (Stepping into a Leadership Role? Be Ready to Tell Your Story, Sluss. D., Harvard Business Review, 2020) outlined how the new supervisor should tell his or her story.

Specifically, it is important to realize that the employees in the supervisor’s team may not know a lot about their new leader, and they have not made any investment in this person.  Therefore, Sluss included data from a survey of 278 professionals, along with other research findings. He concluded that the most effective story that a new supervisor can tell includes information on their   competence and on any change or changed expectations that they foresee.  Specifically, a new supervisor should remember to do the following:

    • Don’t overshare but do relate to your new team members on a personal level. That is, tell a small bit about your personal life; nothing too revealing, but enough to make the supervisor feel like an actual person.  In short, do not get overly personal.
    • Don’t just share your résumé, but do tell them your “story.” The employees want the supervisor to stake their claim as the new leader through his/her career “story,” or narrative.  They want to know, for instance, why this particular job makes sense for them at this time.  As one respondent said, “I would like to know what led my supervisor to get into a role like this.”’

Selecting the right candidate for a supervisor job and ensuring that they get off to a good start is not easy.  But it is crucial for the success of every organization.  Remember, supervisors make up the largest group of leaders at every company.  So, spend the time, effort, and money to ensure that your supervisors excel in their jobs.

About the Author

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult® and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership