Manager or Supervisor?

Give some thought to this:

  • Do you ever suggest-but-not-really-because-it's-more-like-you-insist that one of your direct reports hire someone?
  • Do you ever tell them that you don't want them to hire someone?

If you have ever done either of these, no matter what your direct report's title is, you have turned them into a supervisor.

A supervisor supervises daily work that is defined by someone else. A manager decides what the work is. They also have the power to hire and fire. Take that away, and they're not a manager any more. And the moment their direct reports know that - whether you want to or not - you take on being that team's manager, because they won't bother to go to the supervisor for anything any more. Why should they? You've taken all of that former manager's power away.

If you don't trust a manager to hire or fire people, you have the wrong manager. Fire them. If you don't trust anyone else to hire and fire, you've created a hierarchy with just 2 levels: you, and everyone else. There are some profound ramifications to that:

  • Your managers won't own the success or failure of their team members. Why should they? They didn't even get to decide who those team members are.
  • Your managers' direct reports will come to you whenever they get a 'no' from their manager. Congratulations! Mom said no, so now they go to dad. You've turned your organization into a dysfunctional family, just like you always dreamed about.
  • Turnover: If your managers' direct reports aren't owned by their manager, they won't get what they need. People who don't get what they need leave. And guess what? Managers who find out that they're not really managers leave, too, to go work for organizations where they can be managers. Which is most of them.

The solution: Let go! You hired managers to do what you are either bad at or don't have the bandwidth to do. Let them be managers, for Pete's sake. And if they fail, give them some encouragement and talk it through with them. If they don't improve, replace them. If they do, congratulations - you have an hierarchy that works.

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