I hope I’m not alone in having a great college experience with amazing faculty and staff members shaping my success. More specifically, I experienced competent, caring supervisors and advisors throughout my academic and co-curricular tenure. This extended into my graduate experience, so when I was getting ready for my first job, hoping for good supervisors wasn’t really a consideration for me – it was a naïve assumption.
Throughout my career, I have since learned to value, appreciate, and be thankful for positive and supportive supervisory experiences. The following are very real examples from personal or close colleague supervisor situations. I wouldn’t go so far to say any was ugly, so please accept my tweak of the tagline:
- The Good: cares about you as a person, supports you in current work, and respects your goals enough to push and prepare you for future success. They are very flexible, support you in a way that is consistent but unique to you, and work around your needs or work style.
- The OK: helps you to get the job done and cares about your productivity, but does not necessarily support you personally or have direction for your professional development beyond your immediate work. They are mostly flexible and treat you the same as everyone else, but they may cater more to their personal agenda than your own.
- The Bad: does not know how to support you (personally or professionally), is not willing to meet with you when you need them (or sometimes at all), and has no consideration for your needs or work style. They are rigid, unfair or inconsistent in treatment of employees, and care only about their own agenda.
It’s not often you can control who your boss is and, even if you like the supervisor who hires you, turnover happens and you are at the mercy of the new hire. You can, however, be active and engaged in your employee role. Here are some tips to help ensure a good working relationship with your boss:
- Explain your work style. Be clear with your supervisor about how you typically operate and get to know how they work. With this information out in the open, you can identify any possible conflicts or differences in approach in order to come up with a plan for your working relationship.
- Be vocal about your needs. It’s important to be clear about what you need in a supervisor when you start your role, as well as during your role as those needs may change. While needs may not always be met in the way you would like, at least voice them so your supervisor has a chance to work towards a solution.
- Don’t complain unless you have a solution. While it can be great to vent about things, that can also be unproductive and negative. In order for your supervisor to best help you, try to come with at least a suggestion for a solution for the issue. Or, if you just need to vent, be clear you just want them to listen.
- Put yourself in their shoes. As high of expectations as you may have for your supervisors, try to put yourselves in their shoes at times. For as much as you are going through, they may have even bigger projects or issues. Moreover, thinking about how you would want an employee to come to you if the roles were reversed may reshape your approach or asks of your supervisor.
The supervisor-employee relationship can be a wonderful thing. However, like any relationship, it is probably going to require some work from both parties. Recognize what you can and cannot change, and do your part to encourage open and clear communication. Advocate for yourself, and think beyond your own perspective. Doing so should set you up for success with your supervisor and hopefully reduce the likelihood you’ll endure too many of “the bad” or “the ugly.”