Help, They Made Me a Supervisor—9 Disastrous Mistakes New Supervisors Make

There are few times in business as treacherous as the first few months for new supervisors. They have new-found power and are eager to do the right thing—but they don’t know what it is.

Pity the new supervisor.
Sometimes they do the wrong thing, because they think they have to do something, and sometimes they do nothing when it’s critical to do something. We’ll cover nine typical types of trouble they get into today. Then, tomorrow we’ll talk about some basic rules that are easy to remember.

1. Hiring

Hiring gets to be second nature after a while, but it’s a tricky matter at first. Overeager new supervisors think they should find out all they can about the candidate, but don’t realize that many questions are off limits—questions about race, religion, disability, and marital and family status, among others.
Furthermore, since they have no plan, they have a “chat” instead of an interview, feeling good, but learning little of use. And then they make “unfortunate” (read legally actionable) remarks, like promises about a long career.

2. Supervisor Role vs. Former Co-Workers

When the buddies of last week are suddenly “subordinates,” that can make for a difficult transition. What to do if they won’t follow orders? How to discipline them? How to establish the new roles? These are all questions needing answers.

3. Discipline

Administering discipline takes a little perspective, and new supervisors don’t have much. They are likely to go too hard or too easy, or—just as bad—to be inconsistent.

4. Requests for Time Off

Requests for vacation, FMLA, and similar leaves are hard to handle even for seasoned managers—Who’s eligible for what? When? What are the protocols? It’s easy to mess this one up.

5. Delegation

It’s often hard for new supervisor to let go. If they have been hands-on types before their promotion, they may especially have trouble stepping back.

6. Documentation

Document, document, document” goes the old saw, but new supervisors don’t know when and how. Often they just don’t do it at all.

7. Retaliation

Unfortunately, retaliation is one of the most natural urges, yet it’s one of the most dangerous from a legal standpoint. What will your new supervisor do if a complaint is filed against him or her?

8. Answering Without Knowing the Answer

New supervisors think they’re supposed to have all the answers (experienced supervisors have learned that they don’t) and often blurt out an answer that they later regret.

9. Toughing It Out and Not Asking for Help

Many new leaders have the impression that asking for help will show weakness, so they choose to go it alone to prove their mettle. Not good.
What can you do to get your new supervisors through their first few weeks and months, feeling good about themselves and ready to operate independently? We’ll talk about that in the next Advisor, and tell you about an audio conference especially for new supervisors.