Turn Supervision Into Empowerment



The org chart says you are the boss, the supervisor, the one responsible for managing your people. But, your heart says leading these people doesn't have to be about power and position.

There has to be a way to manage or supervise people in a relationally engaging manner. You'd like your regular appointments to be more about supporting them and less about inspecting their work. Working together should be life-giving for both of you, shouldn't it?

It seems to me that trying to manage people from either extreme--as good friends or as quality control inspectors--will lead to quicksand. Focus on measuring results and the quality of your relationship sinks beneath the surface. Focus on your relationship and attention to productivity gets lost, or worse becomes a relational violation.

What if there was a way to remain relationally supportive while addressing the things that really matter in any supervisory relationship?

I want to offer a simple framework to guide your conversations with anyone who reports to you. This approach works with employees and volunteers alike. As a matter of fact, it works well with partners on a project, too.

"The 4 P's"

It works like this. Anytime you sit with someone you manage, walk through this simple outline. Do so and you will consistently cover all the important stuff.

#1 :: Person

People want to know that they matter not just their work matters. No one shows up at work and forgets about all of the other dynamics of their life. So, ask them about life outside work.


We bring ourselves to everything we do. If our child is sick, our daughter is getting married, our house needs a new roof, our spouse took a new job, our dog has fleas… we carry all of it with us. It means a lot when the people we work with check in on us. When we matter, we usually want to give more of ourselves to our work.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist. Ask people about their lives and then pay attention. Skip this step and you will send a message that you don't really care about them. Listen. Make eye contact. Jot down a few notes so you can follow up on what you hear the next time you talk. If you don’t care about them, you have deeper work to do.

#2 :: Progress

Explore this topic with people: What are some ways you are making progress these days?

Leaders are often good at keeping their eyes on what lies ahead. However, when we don't stop to look back, we forget to celebrate progress!

It could be this person is making huge strides on a major goal or succeeding with small steps on a short term project. Help them pause long enough to honor that progress, no matter how small. Feel free to ask the question in different ways, too. "Where are you seeing success these days?" "What kind of positive feedback are you getting?”

Take time to talk about their progress and they will know you are paying attention. They will know their hard work is valued, that people notice. You will gain a pulse on results you’d like to measure, but it will happen in a relationally supportive manner.

#3 :: Plans & Priorities

Talk about the plans and priorities coming next and you will help people look ahead. Use questions like: "What is most important this next month?" "If you could only get one thing done in the next few weeks, what would it be?" "What are you working on these days that is most significant?"

In the trenches of regular life, it is easy to lose sight of the forest amongst the trees of daily demand. As often as not, just asking someone to articulate their plans will help them gain clarity for themselves. If they struggle to find that clarity, it becomes a perfect coaching opportunity. If they are getting off course, you get the chance to address any confusion and bring realignment to what is most important.

Without talking about their plans and priorities, all you have as a manager are assumptions or wishful thinking. You know where those assumptions get you.

#4 :: Puzzles

Ask people directly: Are there any puzzles you are facing that you are having trouble solving? Are there any roadblocks in your way? Or, What is eating your lunch these days?

Why puzzles? First, because the term puzzle is generally more inviting and implies less criticism than talking about "problems." But, more importantly, life throws curve balls all the time and the framework of puzzles creates a way to join in with someone in the adventure of finding solutions.

Puzzles are those complex issues where there is no immediate or simplistic way forward. They call for creativity. They carry the promise that a real solution exists. The concept of problems can invite a victim mentality. Puzzles can be fun. If there were no puzzles to solve, anyone could do your job.

  • Person

  • Progress

  • Plans | Priorities

  • Puzzles

It seems so stinking simple. But, I need simple. I don't need a 47 point checklist to follow. I need a simple outline that I can remember and utilize at anytime. This simple 4-P outline creates game-changing conversations without requiring deep prep-work.

I dare you to give this a try. My experience is that these four topics open up conversations of nuance and significance that cause others to mistake you for someone brilliant. Explore these topics with those who report to you and it will transform a duty-driven reporting into deeply empowering and dynamic interaction. Everyone deserves to know that their boss has their back. This is one way to achieve that goal.

ONE MORE THING. None of this works without the discipline of LISTENING. Pay Attention. Listen to your people when they talk. For more, see my post on, “Dialogs of the Deaf.”

Your Thoughts?


Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

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© 2020 by Gary Mayes