As graduate students, we spend a lot of time making sure (read: worrying) that we are living up to the expectations of our professors, mentors, and supervisors. Whether in our graduate assistantships, internships, or summer jobs, we are constantly evaluating our own performances because we know that, without fail, someone else will be doing the same to us before we leave the position. Have we gone above and beyond our duties as assigned? Have we arrived early and stayed late when necessary? Have we offered to take on responsibilities from our supervisors to help lessen their proverbial loads? If you’re anything like me (type-A-people-pleaser) then you’ve probably asked yourselves these questions and more over and over again. But what if we’re asking the wrong question? What if we need to start by assessing how super our very own supervisor really is?
In the last year alone, I have worked for no less than four different supervisors, all of whom have supervised me in very unique ways depending on their personalities, experience with supervision, and work styles. I would like to offer my opinions on the profile of a SUPERvisor because, as I move forward along my student affairs career path, these are the qualities and traits that I will be looking for in a boss. That’s right – they think they’ll be interviewing me for a job but I’ll also be taking notes about their leadership style and ability to supervise me. Why? I’d like to go to work each day energized to work efficiently, creatively, and passionately with the support and trust of a supervisor who has my best interest at heart.
Here’s what puts the super in supervisor:
- Ask me what I want to gain from my time under your supervision. How often has a supervisor taken the time out of their busy schedule to ask about our goals and career aspirations so that they know what types of experiences to involve us in? I was pleasantly surprised this spring when my soon-to-be summer internship supervisor called me to ask what types of experiences he could prepare and plan for me so that I got exactly what I wanted out of my two months in his office. He asked what types of student affairs and higher education professionals he could introduce me to in order that I might better understand the school’s leadership and culture. He asked what types of projects and interactions he could assign so that I would gain skills unique to his office and institution, a diversification from my graduate assistantship. And then, above all else, he followed through. He made sure to assign projects, tasks, and meetings that pushed me out of my comfort zone and into true professional development. Make sure you’re working for someone who is excited to see you learn and grow.
- Value my opinion. Just because I’m 23 doesn’t mean that I can’t bring valuable contributions to the table in a staff meeting. And when I do, please take a few minutes to consider my ideas and input instead of nodding politely and then continuing on to the next order of business. Tradition is an extremely valuable and important to most institutions of higher education but there is a fine line between respecting and implementing traditions and doing something because it’s the only way it’s ever been done. I believe that young professionals are bringing incredible ideas to the higher education table and that our supervisors can oftentimes learn just as much from us as we can learn from them. If you really disagree with my idea or think that it isn’t right for the current situation, just tell me! I want, more than anything, to be treated like a true member of the team and for my ideas to be seen as viable and valid.
- Don’t surprise me in an evaluation meeting. My dad actually taught me this one. He’s been supervising staff members for many years in the corporate world and told me that the key to being a successful supervisor in any field is to address issues right when they come up and not to wait until a mid-year or annual review to spring complaints on people. I’ve seen this one backfire firsthand and can understand the frustration and confusion when a review meeting goes south quickly as a supervisor begins to list all of the problems he or she has noticed over the course of the semester or year. “Why didn’t you tell me right away so that I could work on fixing my mistakes?” is what we’re really thinking as we nod silently. If we build a strong working relationship and rapport with our supervisors, we should trust that they will give us guidance and feedback to make us better employees and professionals along the way. After all, we want to be Directors someday and not a Coordinator forever, right? We lose trust in and respect for supervisors who wait to give us an itemized list of our shortcomings and missteps but we value the growth and learning experience when our supervisor calls us in to find out if we’re struggling with a concept or having a tough week in our personal life.
- Set clear expectations. I’m sure that one of the hardest parts of being someone’s supervisor is knowing when to look over their shoulder or to offer input or advice without their asking. It is your job, after all, to make sure that the work is getting done and getting done well, for that matter. So much of this guessing and stepping on toes business could be avoided up front if clear expectations are set immediately upon beginning a new job or becoming a supervisor to a new supervisee. It is partly the responsibility of the person being supervised to make sure that they are crystal clear on what is expected of them in their role but the supervisor should actively involve him or herself in the process of clarifying these expectations and guidelines. This way, the pair shares a unified vision for the project or assignment at hand and benchmarks can be set along the way to check-in and make sure everything is running smoothly. One of the best supervisors that I’ve ever worked for involved the mission statement of both the office and the university in his expectations for my work, which made it much easier to relate my ideas and learning outcomes back to his expectations.
- Tell me when I’ve done something well. I don’t need you to give me a high five every time I turn in a report or a project but it would be wonderful to know when I’ve really knocked a project or assignment out of the park. More than anything, it’s important for us to realize when our work is truly making a difference towards achieving the overall mission of the office and institution and if we could get a small pat on the back for our successes and wins, there would likely be many more of them! It’s reassuring when a supervisor lets us know we’re meeting, and hopefully exceeding, their expectations and those instances boost our confidence in the professional setting to take more risks and be even more innovative! I am thankful for the supervisors who have given me constructive feedback on my work so that I can continue to learn and grow in this professional field.
Now get out there and thank the best supervisors you’ve ever had for possessing these important qualities and likely many others not listed above! We, as young professionals, can learn from our incredible (and even the not-so-incredible) bosses and keep these lessons in mind for that day when we are supervising others!