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Supervisors, keep your hands off of the tools and focus on leading your team

April 2, 2020
Tom Moriarty says it’s time to focus on being a supervisor, and leave the work force to do their job.

I’ve said in many articles and presentations that the two most difficult things for a new leader to do are (1) to put down the tools, and (2) to hold people accountable who used to be your peers.

About the Author: Tom Moriarty

This month I’m going to discuss the first item: Teaching yourself to keep away from the tools. What I mean by “the tools” is the basic work practices of the work center for which the leader is responsible. In my workshops, I recommend that a leader spend less than 5% of their time on tools.

Leaders are accountable to provide direction, guidance, and the assets needed to carry out the guidance. They provide training so the work force can execute the guidance with the assets they are provided. The leader then needs to be consistent, attentive, respectful, motivational, and assertive to guide performance.

There are situations when a leader is expected to pitch in. Three situations come to mind:

  1. When the work center is severely understaffed.
  2. When the leader is newly assigned and needs to be more familiar with the work center’s functions.
  3. When one or more team members request that the leader share their knowledge or expertise.

Two of these circumstances should not be routine. In the first situation it may be “all hands on deck” and there may be no choice but to jump in and help the team. When staffing approaches full strength, the leader needs to back out. And, after the leader gains understanding and proficiency in the requirements of the work center, they should go back to being a leader and leave the work force to do their job.

The third situation is really an ongoing leadership role. Leaders must share knowledge and expertise when requested, and not revert to being a technician for an extended period of time. In fact, leaders should be spending at least 40% of their time as a coach. Coaching means providing feedback (positive and corrective) and growth opportunities, technically or professionally.

With the above three situations understood, supervisors should otherwise avoid putting their hands on tools. There are some things you should think about that can help you keep yourself from getting too involved with the tools:

  • You are being paid to lead, not do expert/technician work. The company is paying you to be a supervisor. If you’re doing expert/technician work, you’re not earning your pay as a leader.
  • If you keep doing expert/technician work, you’re taking work away from team members who take pride in their job.
  • Not doing enough manager/administrator work will lead to barriers for your team’s performance.
  • Focus on doing your job as a supervisor. Your main job as a supervisor is the long-term performance of your team. If you’re not spending enough time on coaching, systems thinking, and visionary work, then you’re hindering the future performance of your team.

So, how can supervisors keep themselves from the tools? Get control of your time. Use a time log. Take notes over several days on where your spending your time. Identify what category of leadership role you’re in for each period of time you log. (The five roles are expert/technician, manager/administrator, coach, systems thinker, and visionary.)

There may be time you don’t spend in a leadership role, including personal development and goofing off. You should spend little or no time goofing off, but perhaps as much as 5% to 10% of your work week working on your own development. That leaves more than 90% of time to be spent in leadership roles.

If you’re a supervisor, most of your leadership role time should be split between manager/administrator and coach. Less than 5% of your time should be spent as expert/technician, and maybe 10% to 15% split between systems thinker and visionary roles.

Learn the techniques needed to be an expert at leadership. When you improve your leadership skills, and become a productive leader, you will get so much more out of yourself and your team. Go forth and do great things.

Human Capital

This article is part of our monthly Human Capital column. Read more from Tom Moriarty.

About the Author

Tom Moriarty | P.E., CMRP, President of Alidade MER, Inc.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in asset management, reliability engineering, and leadership improvement. He is a member of SMRP (Florida Chapter Board Member and CED Director), a past Chair of ASME’s Canaveral Florida Section, and author of the book “The Productive Leadership System; Maximizing Organizational Reliability”. He has a BSME, an MBA (organizational development), is a licensed professional engineer (PE) in Florida, and a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP). Contact him at [email protected], (321) 773-3356, or via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/alidade-mer.

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