Learning Great Supervision Skills

For those of you who were active in ASA Convention programs in the late '90s, you're probably familiar with the extremely popular full-day course that was offered called “Growing Your Management and Supervisory Skills.” The developer and leader of that course was Edward J. Felten, who was at the time the President of the First Supply Group in Madison, Wisconsin, and 1998 President of ASA. Last year at the ASA Convention, Felten was presented with the Fred V. Keenan Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his many years of contributions to our industry.

Ed has since retired and he and his wife Cathy have made a new home for themselves in the sunny climes of Phoenix. However, by no stretch of the imagination has Ed has not left our industry! He's working to take some of the great things that he learned and put into practice in his own career as a manager and businessman, and is putting them on paper.

His new book, which he's in the process of writing, will help ASA members across the country teach the “rising stars” in their firms how to be good at supervising people. It will help them learn the basic skills of motivating people, rewarding them for good performance, and inspiring their own career growth.

Following is an excerpt from Ed's book, currently a work in progress, but which is expected to be published within the next 10-12 months.


Supervision today is different than it was in the past. Supervisors today lead people more than they boss them. That's why motivation is becoming a more important part of any supervisor's job.

Most “old style” supervision was reactive. It involved a lot of fixing. We kept track of what went wrong and sought improvement on that basis. Today, we focus on what's being done right. It's the difference between recording fill rates versus back order rates. Our style today is proactive rather than reactive. We try to be sure we're aligned with the customer and with the overall goals of the company.

Today's supervisor is interested in results rather than in compliance-oriented behavior. However, this does not mean chaos. Systems and procedures are more important than ever, but any supervisor who stresses compliance behavior over results soon will find his employees keeping track of things and delivering compliance-type productivity.

Today's good supervisors derive their power from their personal and business skills, not from their title or position. Remember the days when people got titles instead of money as their reward for good performance? That really was quite insulting to everyone involved. A title today doesn't give you power. The things that give you authority and the power to lead people are the skills you bring to the job and your reputation that precedes you. Laud a title in front of them and you're asking for trouble.

It's Not All About You

Today's smart supervisor relies on collaboration to get the job done. The more difficult or impossible the job or the time constraints, the more important it is to get your people involved in creating a plan to get it done. Collaboration, rather than control, is the most effective method of problem-solving you have in your toolbox as a supervisor. You must resist getting caught up in the heat of the battle and falling back on control as your primary source for leadership.

The smart supervisor today is “we” or “us” oriented and not “I” or “my” oriented. The words “I” or “my” are perhaps the biggest turnoff to team building that ever existed. If you want to be recognized as a supervisor people will want to work for, then use those words only to take blame. When you're handing out or taking credit for things, stick to the “we” and “our” words. At one of my first jobs, my boss would review all my business correspondence -- letters, memos and notes. He would circle all the “I” and “my” words, unless I used them in context of taking responsibility or blame for something that went wrong. Otherwise, he insisted that I use the third person terminology. It was a good lesson to learn. If you want to have your people love to work for you, this is an easy way to make it happen. Listen to some people talk. If they're constantly talking in terms of “I” and “my” it's a real turn-off, to be sure. You cannot preach teamwork and empowerment using “I” and “my”.