Q: I’ve recently found myself in a different
position at work, and now
I will be supervising other people.
I’m new to being The Boss; what
advice can you give me?
Congratulations on your new role! Being assigned
supervisory responsibility is generally viewed as
advancement. It means that someone thinks you
have what it takes to be a role model and a leader.
Alas, your management position will bring with it a
host of new challenges and things to think about. I
polled a few respected leaders in publishing, advertising
and design—representing both in-house and
agency—and asked them to describe the qualities
of an effective manager. (There were so many good
suggestions we’ll continue their thoughts in the next
issue.) While there are several areas of undisputed
agreement, there were also a few points the ad hoc
advising group did not unanimously concur on.
Following are some tips and pointers from taskmasters
who have extensive experience supervising
Being a good boss is a lot like being a good parent.
It’s not your job to be a friend, but it is your job to
guide people. Just as in parenting, sometimes you’re
going to encounter unexpected, challenging situations.
Treat your colleagues as you would want to be
treated. Be fair, be honest and most of all be decisive.
You wouldn’t be the boss if you didn’t have good
judgment. Trust it.
Be accessible. Set a time when people know
they can reach you, or establish a pattern that
employees can depend on. This is especially important
with newcomers to your organization.
Give positive feedback—not just about work,
but about anything. People will be more comfortable
with you if interactions are casual and friendly.
Don’t start telling your new underlings how
to do things or insist they do everything your way.
Also, don’t think you have to solve every problem yourself. Your staff will appreciate the chance to
contribute and help out.
Be a coach rather than a dictator. After all,
they’ve gotten this far without you. To take a team
from good to great, challenge them to find solutions
for themselves and reward them when they do.
Many new bosses start by making personnel
changes. If this is your approach, be open about it.
For example, if you are mixing up creative teams,
explain why—for example: “I’m trying to grow this
young designer by pairing him with a more seasoned
copywriter.” This helps your staff understand your
vision and not take changes personally.
Be specific about your goals and objectives
and communicate them to the team clearly from the
onset. Conduct an initial, informational meeting to
make sure everyone understands what you expect,
including your stance on deadlines, timelines, etc.
Enlist feedback and input at the meeting and follow
up with a written report.
Once you’ve established goals and objectives,
outline what results you expect. Discuss outcomes
that will occur when goals are achieved and be sure
to include incentives for exceeding them. Also touch
upon the possible negative results of not meeting certain
Learn from mistakes and move forward. When
appropriate, share your short-comings or mess-ups
with the team and explain how you recovered.
Trust your people until they demonstrate that
they can’t be trusted.
Challenge and empower
A good supervisor is similar to your toughest teacher
in school. That teacher probably set high expectations
and challenged you to be the best you could
be. When you didn’t give it your all, your grade
reflected that: Your teacher didn’t just hand out
As. It may have taken you a while to recognize the
teacher had your best interests at heart. Later, you
recognized your teacher led with integrity.
Empower your staff and allow each individual
member to grow to his/her full potential. Be on the
lookout for unknown talents, such as a designer
that has a flair for strategy or copy development. By focusing on a higher level of performance for each
of your subordinates, you are available to grow your
own skills. (And remember: people who see growth
opportunities tend to be more loyal and stay with
Be a cheerleader. Take the time to acknowledge
individual achievements in group settings. This demonstrates
that you are secure in your own position and
not threatened by the accomplishments of your team.
When someone comes to you with a question or complaint,
listen. Assure them you will take care of their
situation and treat it in a confidential manner. You’ll
lose their trust if you mishandle sensitive information
or cause them embarrassment or discomfort.
Ask your employees regularly if they have questions
or if everything is OK—don’t just assume
they’ll speak up. Seek out each employee and get to
know them and hear their concerns. Ask often what
they need to enhance their work environment. Be
prepared to act on what you hear if it is reasonable.
Praise in public, but criticize in private.
Never say anything (to anyone!) about one of your
colleagues that you wouldn’t say face-to-face. This
applies not only to what you say, but how you say it.
Reward extraordinary efforts. Even if you’re
not in a position to give someone a raise or bonus,
there are other ways of acknowledging great work.
Offer comp time or an afternoon off; buy lunch for
the group; or just take individuals aside and tell them
how much you appreciate their efforts. These gestures
go a long way.
Empower those you supervise. Don’t take a
decision they could make out of their hands. They
may initially feel uncomfortable with making decisions,
so it is important that you show confidence in their ability.
Make your conversations meaningful. Create
forums for discussion, be a sounding board, make it
OK to stir up the pot.
Recognize each of your direct reports as unique
individuals with strengths and areas for development.
No two people are alike. Manage individuals with
their strengths in mind, rather than always trying to
improve upon their weaknesses.
In the creative field especially, it is important to
understand and find out the best way to communicate
with each person individually—adjust your style
slightly for each person.
Lead by example
Do what you say and say what you do: Nobody likes
a boss who has different expectations and rules for
everyone but themselves.
Don’t second-guess yourself. You were promoted
into this position because you earned it. Trust
your instincts, make decisions judiciously and confi-
dently—and don’t look back.
Apologize when you screw up. Allow yourself
permission to be wrong. When you discover that
you’ve erred, acknowledge your mistake to all concerned,
make whatever changes are needed and then
Never ask someone under you to take on a task
that you yourself are unwilling to do. Most jobs
include actions that are unpleasant and some that are
downright distasteful. If you seem to be constantly
unwilling to “work in the trenches” with those you
supervise, you will alienate them from you eventually.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
If you are making changes, explain why.
Be prompt. Always arrive to meetings on time
and be respectful of others’ time. If you start slacking
or being late to appointments, you are letting
your employees know that it’s OK for them to do
Be proactive. Handle work in an efficient manner
and deal with problems immediately. By demonstrating
that you are a go-getter and problem solver,
you encourage others to be the same.
Work at being a good leader. Take classes, seek
feedback, truly want to grow as a person. Everyone
will see your efforts and respect you more.