It takes a good staff to raise a new boss


Your new boss has no experience as a supervisor. She may not have any experience with the kind of work you do. She is friendly — but close to clueless. You are sure she is going to be a pain to work for.

Now, you might think my sympathy will be for the employee who must report to a supervisor who will probably make work difficult for at least a few months. But my sympathies go to the new supervisor. That individual is in a tough position.

A person new to supervising, trying to get a half dozen or more individuals — a mix of cooperative, skilled, cantankerous, and apathetic — to work together will have some tough days. And if she has a demanding boss expecting “great things” from the new supervisor on top of it all, she will have some difficult days and restless nights.

Some new supervisors want to control everything, some will enjoy (and abuse) the power, and some are afraid to exert authority for fear of offending or hurting the feelings of their employees.

Rarely is a new supervisor’s first year a pain-free learning experience for the supervisor or their employees. But the novice supervisor who is trying to do her best for the company and the employees, that person has my support.

I don’t have much sympathy for the power-hungry individual or the guy who sees a chance to off-load his work to his employees, then find a way to pin the blame on them when things go wrong. And the new supervisor whose pride won’t let him accept help when it is offered, my sympathies are for his employees.

Listening to people complain about their new supervisors has been part of my life for a few decades. I have had a few bosses whose ambition exceeded their ability. Eventually I decided to it was best to change jobs to get away from a bad boss.

Too often the people who call me have decided to do as little as possible to help a new supervisor they don’t approve of, in the belief that their supervisor will fail and be replaced by a better supervisor. It’s a poor plan and a lousy bet to make with your job.

Intentionally contributing to your supervisor’s failure doesn’t make you look like a good employee or a candidate for a promotion. And when that bad boss is the company owner, how does it help the business and your job security to make his life more difficult? That bit of logic confounds me.

By the time people talk with me their heels are already dug in and they want to know how to get the powers-that-be to take some action (e.g. get rid of) their supervisor. Employees working directly for business owners want me to give them the magic words that will convince their bad bosses to change their ways.

The ugly truth is that your boss’s boss made the decision to hire this inexperienced person and he will defend that decision. And the top boss has a reasonable expectation that employees will work with — and try to help — their new supervisor.

And that is why I counsel patience and understanding when I am talking to the employees of new supervisors. It is not reasonable to expect a new supervisor to be a good or great supervisor. They are learning new skills, developing their leadership style and learning how to get work done through others.

Now, I am not saying that the right person was selected for the supervisor position nor am I suggesting that business owners will eventually become good supervisors. Many lose their business because they never learn how to supervise. But I am suggesting that when you find yourself working for a new supervisor, give her a chance.

What can you do as an employee to help a new supervisor become a good supervisor? How long should you tolerate the shortcomings of a new supervisor? When should you raise a red flag and alert the top boss that there are big problems with a new supervisor? What are the signs that you should start looking for another job?

Tune in next week for the answers. Same time, same page.

Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.


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