“Courage” may seem a bit over-the-top, but what actually goes on shouldn't be minimized or taken for granted.
Supervisors do more than manage workflow or pass on orders from the higher-ups. For many employees, their direct supervisors are the human face of the organization - for better or worse. All kinds of personal issues and self worth are loaded into the real (and imagined) communication and interactions between direct reports.
Some supervisors instinctively “get” this without even realizing it. They're sure-footed and natural with people above and below them, so they almost never create unnecessary problems for themselves, and handle the problems that do come up with skill and efficiency. Those people are pretty rare these days.
That's the main reason there's so much talk about "workplace culture." If you get a good culture going at work all kinds of human problems don't even get started, problems and mistakes are truly seen as opportunities to learn, employees are actually relaxed, focused and productive, and an organization is therefore more likely to achieve its mission - and be profitable.
Most supervisors don't work in places like that. It's not that the rest of us work in human-relations hellholes. Mostly people go to work every day with other decent people looking to earn their pay, not cause problems, and go home to their lives. That's still true enough, but ... problems arise as people increasingly bring their emotional needs, their baggage, and their only partially-formed "employee identity" to the workplace. Those are 21st century problems supervisors are forced to deal with more than ever at work. The actual work product is only a piece of a much larger reality.
The courage I'm referring to isn't about being authoritarian or willing to go nose to nose with an employee. It's about managing one's own feelings, while conveying emotional maturity, and a positive, helpful, problem-solving focus on the mission at hand. And yes, it also means really knowing what's going on, paying attention, heading toward problems sooner rather than later, and being absolutely ready to address performance problems.
It's been my good fortune to be successful at helping real people - normal human beings with lives - adapt, learn, and navigate forward so that they become strong supervisors whose employees regard them with trust and respect.
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