Designing Supervisor Training: Building Strong Leaders

Sections of this topic

    Written by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC. Copyright; Authenticity
    Consulting, LLC

    (Note that there are separate topics about How to Design Your Management Development Program and How to Design Your Leadership Development Program. Those two topics are very similar to this topic about supervisor development, but with a different focus.)

    Sections of This Topic Include:

    A comprehensive, practical book by Carter McNamara

    Leadership and Supervision in Business - Book Cover

    Prepare for Your Learning and Development

    Be Sure You Know What Learning and Development Really Are

    Most of us are so conditioned from many years of schooling that we think of learning and development as coming from a program in which our participation is graded by experts in a certain topic. As a result, many of us still miss numerous opportunities for our own learning and development. Perhaps one of the reasons is that we do not know what learning and development really are. So before undertaking a supervisor development program, we should be sure that we know what we are talking about.

    Learning could be interpreted as new:

    1. Knowledge is information that is useful in accomplishing a certain activity that is important, for example, to solve a problem, achieve a goal, or see a situation in an entirely different light.
    2. Skills, which is the expertise — consciously or unconsciously — to continually use the new information to accomplish that certain activity. (Educators often refer to new abilities as a component of learning, but some admit that the difference between abilities and skills is such a fine one that it is often difficult to explain.)
    3. Perceptions are new ways of seeing a situation. (When people are continually stuck when trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal, it is often in the way that they see the situation.)

    In the field of education, development could be interpreted as the activities to raise the quality of performance, for example, of a person, team, or organization. However, like learning, development is best accomplished if it is recognized as such. Thus, development usually requires ongoing focus and attention to the quality of performance, as well as the quality of the activities to raise it.

    Consider Two Different Approaches to Learning About Supervision

    It is important to understand the different approaches you can take in increasing your learning about supervising. Formal approaches are proactively designed in a comprehensive and systematic way in order to accomplish certain desired outcomes. Traditional classroom approaches to education have that specific form — they are formal approaches to learning and development.

    In contrast, informal approaches are those that occur during our typical day-to-day activities in life and can include, for example, reading books, having discussions with friends, on-the-job training, and keeping a diary with thoughts about supervision.

    Know How to Capture Learning from Your Activities

    Whether in formal or informal approaches, the ongoing ability to recognize and capture learning is extremely important. That ability is often referred to as continuous learning and it is frequently mentioned in literature about management development (in this context, the term management is inclusive of leadership and supervisor development). Simply put, continuous learning is the ability to learn to learn.

    The key to cultivating continuous learning is the ability to continually reflect on your experiences and the experiences of others in your life. Reflection is continuously thinking about, for example, your experiences, their causes and effects, your role in them, if they changed you, and how. It is thinking about how you might use those experiences and changes to enhance your life and the lives of others.

    If you can view your life as a “laboratory for learning program”, then you can continue to learn from almost everything in your life. However, learning is best captured if it is consciously recognized as such, for example, discussed with someone else or written down somewhere. Otherwise, new learning can easily be lost in the demands of life and work. So it is very important to document your learning.

    Prepare for Your Learning About Supervision

    Get Acquainted With Organizational Context of Supervision

    Before learning more about supervision, you would benefit first from becoming acquainted with the organizational context in which supervision typically occurs, including understanding organizations as systems, their common dimensions, what makes each unique, their different life cycles, and different cultures.

    Get Acquainted With What “Supervision” Is

    Then, the next place to start learning about supervision is to get some sense of what supervision really is — in particular, get an impression of the areas of knowledge and skills recommended for effective supervision in organizations. Review the information on the Library’s topic:

    Activities for Informal Approach to Supervisor Development

    Here is but a sampling of the activities from which you could informally accomplish your own supervisor development. Here is a sample learning journal that you might use to continually capture your learning.

    Consider getting assistance

    Consider these readings

    Consider practicing these supervisor skills

    Consider workplace activities for learning

    • Start a new project, ideally, a project that includes your setting direction and influencing others to follow that direction
    • Regularly solicit feedback from others about your supervisor’s skills
    • Ask your supervisor, peers, and subordinates for ideas to develop your supervisor skills
    • Ask to be assigned to a supervisor position

    Close gaps in your work performance

    • Performance gaps are areas of knowledge and skills that need to improve performance and are usually indicated during performance reviews with your supervisor. This Library topic is to a series of articles about managing performance, including performance gaps.

    Close any growth or opportunity gaps

    • Growth gaps are areas of knowledge and skills needed to achieve a career goal. Opportunity gaps are areas of knowledge and skills needed to take advantage of an upcoming opportunity. These Library topics can help you think about the growth and opportunity gaps in your career.

    Conduct self-assessments

    Collect ideas from others

    • Ask for advice from friends, peers, your supervisor, and others about skills in supervision. Ask for their opinions about your own supervisor skills. Try to get their suggestions in terms of certain behaviors you should show.

    Reference lists of suggested competencies

    • Competencies are lists of the general abilities needed to do a certain job or perform a certain role. Reference the “How to” sections
      in the following Library topic:

    Reference publications about leadership

    • There is a vast amount of information about leadership and leadership skills, which are similar to supervisor skills. However, much of it
      is in regard to character traits that leaders should have. When determining your program goals, translate these character traits to behaviors that you and others can recognize.

    Consider other sources for learning

    Guidelines for Formal Approach to Supervisor Development

    You are much more likely to develop skills in supervision from participating in a formal program approach than an informal approach. The following sections will guide you to develop your own complete, highly integrated, and performance-oriented program.

    Identify Your Overall Goals for Your Program

    This section helps you identify what you want to be able to do as a result of implementing your program, for example, to qualify for a certain job, overcome a performance problem, or achieve a goal in your career development plan. You are often better off working towards at most two to four goals at a time, rather than many. There are a variety of ways to identify your program goals, depending on what you want to be able to accomplish from the program. The articles might be helpful in preparing you to identify your goals.

    Various Ideas for Supervisor Development Goals

    1. Do you have career plans that would require certain new supervisor skills? See How to Plan Your Career.
    2. Did your previous performance review with your supervisor suggest certain improvements in supervision that you need to make? See Goal Setting With Employees.
    3. Are there certain opportunities that you could take advantage of if you soon developed certain new supervisor skills? See How to Look for a Job.
    4. You might do some self-assessments to determine if there are any areas of supervisor development that you might undertake. See Assessing Your Training Needs.
    5. Ask others for feedback about your supervisor’s skills. See Giving and Receiving Feedback.
    6. Do you find yourself daydreaming about doing certain kinds of activities? See Setting Personal Goals.

    Include a Goal About Supervising Yourself

    You cannot effectively supervise others unless you first can effectively supervise yourself. Consider goals from the Library’s topic of Personal Wellness

    List your Program Goals in your Template for Planning Your Professional Development Program. (This is a Microsoft Word document.)

    Determine Your Learning Objectives and Activities to Achieve Each

    The purpose of this section is to help you identify the various learning objectives you should achieve in order to achieve your overall program goals, along with the activities you should undertake to achieve each objective.

    Identifying Your Learning Objectives

    Carefully consider each of your program goals. What might be the various accomplishments, or objectives, that must be reached in order to achieve each goal? Do not worry about doing all of that perfectly — objectives can be modified as you work to achieve each goal. Which of these objectives requires learning new areas of knowledge or skills? These objectives are likely to become learning objectives in your program plan. To get a stronger sense of learning objectives, see:

    Identifying Your Learning Activities

    Learning activities are the activities you will conduct in order to achieve the learning objectives. The activities should accommodate your particular learning styles, be accessible to you, and be enjoyable as well. The long list of activities in the above two columns might be useful, as well.

    List the Learning Objectives to Achieve Each Desired Goal in your Template for Planning Your Professional Development Program.

    List the Activities to Achieve Each Learning Objective in your Template for Planning Your Professional Development Program.

    Develop Any Materials You May Need

    Carefully think about each of the activities to achieve the learning objectives. Consider, for example, getting books, signing up for courses, reserving rooms, and getting trainers.

    List the Materials You Might Need in Your Template for Planning Your Professional Development Program.

    Plan the Implementation of Your Program

    During the implementation of your program, you want to make sure there are no surprises. For example, how will you make sure you understand the new information and materials? Will your learning be engaging and enjoyable? Will you have all the support you need?

    List the Key Considerations in Implementing Your Plan in your Template for Planning Your Professional Development Program.

    Evaluate During and After Your Program

    Evaluation includes assessing both the quality of the activities during the program and whether you achieved your goals soon after the program.

    List the Approach to Evaluating During and After Your Program in your Template for Planning Your Professional Development Program.

    Follow-Up After Completion of Your Program

    It is a major accomplishment to design and implement a supervisor development program. Celebrate what you have done! Reflect on what you learned about developing the program — and about yourself.

    List the Key Activities After Completing Program in your Template for Planning Your Professional Development Program.

    Additional Resources in the Category of Leadership