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20 Tips on Being a Great Boss, Supervisor, and Leader

David has over 15 years of supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge of how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

A Good Boss is a Great Leader

No matter how different each employee is, you are expected to not only be a boss and supervisor, but a leader to your staff as well.

No matter how different each employee is, you are expected to not only be a boss and supervisor, but a leader to your staff as well.

Author's Experience

I have been a supervisor for over 15 years. In that time I have supervised multiple units with a combination of over 30 employees, some of those being supervisors themselves. I have handled employee discipline, evaluations, and other issues in regards to how to be a supervisor.

Becoming a New Supervisor

When you find yourself in charge of a team or organization, you become three things:

  • Boss - This is someone who tells others what to do. This word can mean both something good or bad. After all, it wouldn't be called being "bossed around" for nothing.
  • Supervisor - This is someone who oversees the operation and makes decisions that could impact the team.
  • Leader - This is someone who leads by example. This provides a positive influence on the team. To leaders, the employees aren't treated like tools to be used.

You don't want to be just one of these. In fact, you need to be all three. Read on to find out how to be the best boss, supervisor, and leader you can be.

A Leader Is...

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.

— John C. Maxwell

20 Tips on Being a Great Leader

  1. Communicate. Always communicate with your staff. The longer you delay information, either to everyone or to one person, the more difficult it will be for your staff to prepare for changes and listen to you as a leader. This also allows you to be transparent with your staff.
  2. Do not assume anything. Just because someone made an error or mistake once, don't assume they will always do it again. The same goes on the flip side. Just because someone always does good doesn't mean they will always do good. I have had employees go from good to bad, and bad to good.
  3. An employees problems may not be related to the job. Employees can have problems outside of their work that could affect their work greatly. It takes communication and talking to your staff member one-on-one to learn what that problem is and supporting them in getting better.
  4. Forgive their mistakes. Just because an employee makes a mistake, you shouldn't note it down in an evaluation or immediately write them up for it. Mistakes happen. I have made mistakes. It's how we learn and grown in our positions. But on the other hand...
  5. Don't ignore multiple mistakes. If an employee continues to have a problem with a job task, ensure you keep track of those mistakes. Work with the employee to fix the problem. Don't write them up or downgrade them on an evaluation without giving them a chance to improve.
  6. Watch your tone and attitude. If you walk in the office in a bad mood, everyone will catch that same bad mood. If you are flippant about a decision made by the higher-ups, your staff will be as well. If you walk in with an ego, it will be an immediate turnoff to your staff. Your staff will look to you to see how to act and what is appropriate. If necessary, hide how you truly feel for the good of your unit.
  7. Encourage your staff. If you see a job promotion someone would be good for, encourage them to take it. Always train your staff to take over your job. Help them grow. Not only is it good for the office, but it will make you look good if you want a promotion yourself.
  8. Visit with your staff. Go walk around to the various offices or workstations where your staff work. Ask what is going on, have small talk with them, etc. I spend maybe an hour a day doing that. They think I am being nosy, but I am simply getting to know them. They eventually relax and even like it.
  9. Ask for feedback. Let your staff give feedback on decisions made in the office. They do the job daily - you don't. If you come out with a policy, let you staff review it. They may have a better way of doing things. It doesn't matter how the task is done, as long as it is done in the end and achieves the desired results.
  10. Sick leave. I still have the problem of assuming someone is lying when they call in sick. It's hard not to think that once you learn how the person is. You can't do that. It makes your staff feel guilty when they get sick and feel like they have to come in. Instead, be understanding. If you see a pattern of excessive sick leave abuse, you can investigate it. Never pry into why someone is sick, otherwise you would be violating law. Talk to them and ask if there is anything you can do to help. Say that you have noticed they have been sick a lot lately and you want to see if you can help them resolve any issues.
  11. Be consistent. Don't discipline someone for something, but fail to discipline someone else for the exact same thing. The same with your decisions. Don't be all over the board when it comes to the decisions you make. If you are consistent, then your staff will know what to expect from you.
  12. Don't be nit-picky. Don't sweat the small stuff. There is no point except that you will be suffocating your employees and giving them an excuse to leave the job. Once they see you don't come down on them hard about the small stuff, they won't make mistakes. They will be more relaxed.
  13. Provide feedback. Don't wait until a yearly evaluation to tell an employee how they are doing. Give them feedback all year long. You don't have to give them a full report. But you can at least say they are doing great in an area or need more work in another area.
  14. Show compassion. If someone is having a hard time at home, then give them the opportunity to take time off. If they are burnt out, then find something else for them to do. If you show them that you care, then they will be more apt to come to you with future problems.
  15. Learn personalities. Everyone is different. Just because you can be direct with one employee doesn't mean you can be direct with another employee. Learn how someone reacts to any given situation and adjust accordingly.
  16. Encourage change. Change happens everywhere, especially in the workplace. You may move locations, laws could affect how you do business, or a downturn in the economy may slow down sales. Don't discourage change when it happens, even if you disagree with it.
  17. Share responsibility. Often times a job responsibility is given to a supervisor because of lack of staffing, having incompetent staff, etc. However, as times change you will find that you can pass on duties back to your staff. Don't hog all of the important duties to yourself.
  18. Show your flaws. If you make a mistake or have made a mistake before, and it is relevant to a current situation, then bring it up. This will show your staff you are just as vulnerable to mistakes as they are.
  19. Listen to your staff. Always give your staff a chance to speak their mind. Maybe they have a good idea or they just want to vent. Stop typing on the keyboard, turn around, and look at them while they talk. They will appreciate it.
  20. Relax. There are times you have to let your guard down. Share an embarrassing story about yourself. Joke around with your employees. Show that you are a human being as much as being a supervisor.

My Mentor Was a Supervisor

I always thought that having a mentor was a bad idea and was even corny in this day and age. But then I met someone in my job who eventually became my mentor. I am unsure if he felt that way, but he really encouraged me to speak my mind and I know I became a better leader because of him.

Are You a Good Supervisor?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Should a supervisor always listen to what their employees have to say?
    • Yes.
    • No.
    • Only if the supervisor has time.
  2. When an employee calls in sick, when is it safe to assume they are lying?
    • When you have enough information to conclude that they are.
    • Never.
  3. When should you tell new employees information that could affect their job?
    • Only when you feel it matters.
    • When you get around to it.
    • Always.
  4. Your company institutes a new policy, requiring a lot of change, what do you tell your staff?
    • This is a good change which we should work towards.
    • This is a stupid change, but we have to do it.
    • Don't tell them and come up with your own plan.
  5. You committed a mistake but have the chance to blame another employee. What do you do?
    • I blame them for it.
    • I own up to my mistake.
  6. An employee is having problems at home, what do you do?
    • I don't get involved.
    • I observe for any changes in behavior and address them accordingly.
    • I offer them time off to handle the issue.
  7. An employee wants an honest evaluation of their work so far. Their work is poor at the moment. What do you do?
    • I tell them to wait until their yearly evaluation to find out.
    • I tell them they are performing poorly.
    • I advise them that they are performing poorly and offer ways to improve.
    • I try to avoid answering the question.
  8. An employee takes a break at another employee's desk while they are working, what do you do?
    • After their break I advise them not to do that in the future.
    • I ignore it. They are on break afterall.
    • I confront the employee directly in front of the other employee to get the point across.
  9. One of your best employees is up for promotion. What do you do?
    • I try to discourage the employee from leaving by telling them I need them.
    • I try to stop the promotion.
    • I do nothing.
    • I encourage the promotion.
  10. You are bogged down on your own duties and need to delegate them to others. What do you do?
    • I equally spread the work so that all employees do it.
    • I give the work to my best employees.
    • I give the work to my worst employees.
    • I assigned the work appropriately to build upon on my employee's skills.

Answer Key

  1. Yes.
  2. Never.
  3. Always.
  4. This is a good change which we should work towards.
  5. I own up to my mistake.
  6. I offer them time off to handle the issue.
  7. I advise them that they are performing poorly and offer ways to improve.
  8. After their break I advise them not to do that in the future.
  9. I encourage the promotion.
  10. I assigned the work appropriately to build upon on my employee's skills.

Interpreting Your Score

If you got between 0 and 3 correct answers: You really need to work on your supervisory skills.

If you got between 4 and 6 correct answers: You aren't that great of a supervisor, but you are getting there.

If you got between 7 and 8 correct answers: Not bad, but could do better.

If you got 9 correct answers: You are a good supervisor.

If you got 10 correct answers: You are a great supervisor.

How to Manage People and be a Better Leader

Good Boss vs. Bad Boss

Good BossBad Boss

Your staff will respect you.

Your staff will show you little respect.

Your staff will go out of their way when you need something of them.

Your staff will purposely not listen to you unless they have to.

More people will want to work for you.

You will find people wanting to leave your department.

Customer service will be better with a happy staff.

Disciplinary issues will come up more often.

You'll be recognized by those above you for being a good boss.

Risk being disciplined, being demoted, or losing your job.

Will find that work is caught up and done correctly.

Overall lower quality of work from your staff.

Staff will volunteer for overtime.

Staff will miss more time just to stay away from you.

My Experiences on Being a Supervisor

I am going to share some of my experiences when I was a new supervisor. This proves that no matter how much experience you have, you will never be prepared for the unexpected.

  • I was in charge of three people and was considered to be a 'working supervisor'. An employee decided to take a break in an unauthorized area and disrupted the work of another employee. When this employee finished their break, I dressed this person down in front of the other staff members for taking a break in another work area. So what did I do wrong? I disciplined this person in front of others, instead of doing it in private. Soon after that, another employee took a break in the same unauthorized area and disrupted the work of an employee. The first employee I disciplined was upset I didn't do the same to this other one right away. I had actually planned to wait until the employee finished their break to be consistent. I didn't, I listened to the first employee and stopped it right away. That started another problem in itself. Anyway, this event haunted me for years. The first employee always went back to that incident on why she didn't like working with me. It caused bad blood for years. I humiliated her in front of others, and I didn't establish taking breaks in an unauthorized area was wrong for my entire staff from the get go.
  • I used a poor choice of words. By this time I was in charge of over ten staff members. I was holding a staff meeting and ended up talking about a new computer system. I was discussing it and stated that newer employees wouldn't have a problem catching on, since they don't know how the other system works and wouldn't confuse the two. But our older employees may have an issue since they are used to the existing system. One of my employees who was older in age took offense, assuming I was referring to her age. I should have used the words existing or seasoned employees. But this proves that your staff will listen to each word you say and take it to heart. This incident almost turned into an official complaint, but luckily it didn't.
  • I was nit-picky from the start. If someone didn't initial something, didn't put a paper in the right place, etc. I would ding them on it. They wouldn't be written up, but I would bring it up to them. In time all of my staff resented me and felt like they had to be perfect in order not to get in trouble. It took a good year for me to drop that habit, but it took another year for staff to realize I didn't do that anymore.
  • Jokes. Even my jokes were taken the wrong way. In this case we hired a new employee who only ended up lasting four days. In this situation I was introducing her to someone else and we were talking about our staffing issues. I said something along the lines of, "At this point we were taking anyone we could get, so we got you." It was a joke, just to meant to imply we were taking anyone who wanted the job since the spots were hard to fill. Well, the employee who I introduced the new employee to complained about the joke. She said the new employee could have taken offense to it, etc. Funny thing was is that she didn't. But my boss still had to talk to me about it. A few other times my jokes were taken out of context. So I cut them off. In time people were complaining I wasn't talkative and casual enough, and just talking about work instead. I couldn't win. In time though I found a balance between it all.
  • I failed to communicate to my staff. My boss authorized everyone to work overtime again due to the budget improving. I didn't mention it to some of my employees. In fact, I totally forgot. But some knew about it and were working overtime. Another employee found out about it and became upset because she thought the employees working overtime were receiving preferential treatment. That made me realize that I need to pass on information as soon as possible to avoid problems like this.
  • I failed to understand that staff needed to take time off work. During one of my evaluations, my boss stated that I wasn't as understanding as I should be when staff need to take time off work, especially when sick. This has always been something that is difficult for me. In one case, a staff member was taking a lot of time off for a relative that was sick. Unfortunately, the relative passed away. I went out of my way and offered to give her some time off if she needed it.
  • I didn't greet my staff when I saw them. In a unit that had multiple shifts, I didn't always greet staff as they came in at the beginning of their shift. One person even complained about it. Even though I didn't have to greet them, I took the time to start doing so. It made a real difference and let them know they could approach me when they came into work.
  • I didn't intervene early enough. I knew an employee was doing something against policy. I didn't know by how much, so I just observed for awhile, close to a month or two. It then became a bigger issue. I didn't want to accuse the employee outright, but had I approached the employee about the issue, it would have been resolved without the need for discipline. Even with years of experience I failed to recognize this. As a supervisor, there is always something new to learn.

A Good Versus a Bad Supervisor

Bad Boss Horror Stories

I have some experiences I want to share when I was supervised by a bad boss. I was just getting used to working in the job, so I didn't know the laws or rules regarding employee rights. I wish I did at the time. This supervisor stepped over the line multiple times. Here are some of my stories:

  • My boss tickled me. That's right, my boss (a female) tackled me (a male) to the ground and tickled me. She was even laying on top of me. Very inappropriate. Now it was all in good fun and I wasn't offended, but what if someone was? This would get someone fired and could result in a potential lawsuit.
  • She called me in my off hours and yelled at me. The situation was that she was going to have me switch to another shift so that a poor performing employee could be properly supervised on my current shift. She told me not to tell anyone about it. She then said she was going to talk about it to another supervisor before making the final decision. Well, she left for the weekend and she didn't say a word to me about it. So I asked the other supervisor about it and she said she didn't know anything about it. This bad boss called me in my off hours and yelled at me for telling the other supervisor. I reported her for the incident, and she threatened to write me up if I did it again. Afterwards I found out she was told not to write me up for the incident and she was in the wrong, but she didn't share that with me.
  • She had an affair while at work. Now I know a lot of couples meet at work, but she was focusing more on her relationship than the job. She would shut the door in her office for hours at a time to be with this other employee. I would call her to ask her something, and she would rush me off the phone. I eventually called her out on it during a meeting, and she was hurt by my actions. She was definitely in the wrong.
  • She yelled at me from bringing the wrong rolls. We were having a pot luck at work at I was supposed to buy rolls. I really didn't have experience in cooking, so I purchased brown and serve rolls. My boss yelled at me in the office for buying the wrong rolls, even though there was enough time to prepare them for the pot luck.
  • She failed to lead the group. She let us do whatever we wanted. When she did discipline us it was too harsh and handled improperly. I even got away with stuff I wouldn't let my own staff do. She never found a balance. Instead, she went from one extreme to another.
You don't have to yell at your employees as if you are in a military boot camp.

You don't have to yell at your employees as if you are in a military boot camp.

It's Your Ship

I have tried to read many books on management, supervising employees, etc., but I could never get into them. However, this book, It's Your Ship, is different. It recounts the efforts made by a navel officer to lead the officers on his ship.

It's a great book that reaffirms and provides new insight on supervising employees. I recommend this book to all supervisors, no matter the experience level. It's a short read that's quite worth it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 David Livermore


Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on April 29, 2018:

Excellent article. One thing I learned as a supervisor/manager at a transportation company: a boss is a leader and a follower. Sometimes, your staff have super ideas which make the work easier and more rewarding. I also did many of the things you suggested: listened, avoid criticizing, and interacting with my staff. The important thing was to realize that companies are made up of people and people can be flawed in how they approach topics from day to day.

In another role as a leader at a company, I gave individuals time to figure situations out. Patience was important.

I do believe leaders can be trained and over time, managers can emerge. Quickly, I identified who was a "social leader" within my teams. I also identified who acted as a "task leader" in the teams. I adjusted how I dealt with these individuals based on the needs of the organization, and occasionally, I called upon their skills to get others motivated. Delegation is key and micromanaging is a destroyer of unity at a work site.

This was a very good article on the topic of management. Thank you again.



jill on November 09, 2017:

I think that a lot of bosses should read this post.

John Hollywood from Hollywood, CA on August 21, 2014:

Nice hub and I wish more bosses read this!

Vivian Sudhir from Madurai, India on June 22, 2014:

Very nice to read about how to get going with the boss. Nice article.

Shatu Boro on March 29, 2014:

It was excellence suggestions. It becomes all the more confidence and this is really awesome note.

Thank you so much for writter.

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on February 11, 2014:

That's rough. I have faced similar situations.

Unfortunately, your foreman may try to do all he can to undermine you. But that's when you have to step up and be the better person. Address all of your employees together, talk about the mission, what needs to be done. Tell your foreman that even though he didn't get your job, it doesn't mean a promotion for him is out of the question either at that same place, or even other companies. But you need his help to get the numbers up, and want to work with him to get that done, not against him.

I wish you luck.

ham on February 11, 2014:

I recently was made the supervisor of two lines, roughly 50 employees. One line is brand new while the other is just over a year old, and the one doesn't hit the numbers it needs to. I'm trying to figure out how to motivate my team because, frankly, they're the only thing that can improve. Unfortunately I don't think motivation alone will get another 30 percent out of them. I want to figure out how to get my foreman on board with my philosophy, but he's unhappy he didn't get my job. I dunno what to do exactly.

mathira from chennai on December 15, 2013:

david, excellent suggestions. It becomes all the more authentic because you have written out of experience.

dp2web from New Delhi on December 12, 2013:

I agree with you. Boss should always be cooperative. In the end of day only How much work have you done, and deliveribilities manner, But by becoming friendly Boss how can reduce their stress. I think most of works for happiness, satisfaction and money. If you upper layer (management) is too bossy it will definitely affect your work culture.

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on December 11, 2013:

Very much. I don't act like a boss, well, I try not to. I try to put myself in their shoes, and it does help.

dp2web from New Delhi on December 10, 2013:

David, Thanks a lot for article, this is really awesome and will help a lot. But what do you think if you are humble with your juniors, this can increase their productivity?

Hugo Furst from Australia on December 09, 2013:

Bosses could use a wee read of this article. Thanks for writing this, pal. Voted up :)

Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on September 30, 2013:

Excellent Hub, David. I have been a supervisor or manager for 30 years with staff levels of 4 to 16 people. I have always found that understanding every employee as an individual and having open communications are key to a smooth running unit. Your advice in this Hub is very helpful.

Stan Murphy from Kansas on June 28, 2013:

Having been on both sides of this issue I can understand how important open communication with employees is. It is for sure a delicate balance, but if the employees are kept informed it is much easier for them to buy-in. Thanks for sharing this.

marion langley from The Study on June 26, 2013:

I very much enjoyed the two directions you took with this, learning the hard way and being the victim. This made the criteria very approachable for me and hopfully others. I especially liked the tip to welcome people and also your symptums of good boss/bad boss table :-) The first because that little bit of appreciation and welcome always helped me to start off my day on the right foot. The second because it gave me a way to find out where I fell on my own. Thanks for writing.

Mr Archer from Missouri on June 26, 2013:

Very well done. I am in charge of around 50 or so at my current level, and have been praised by my bosses for turning the department around. However, when my eval came up, the one thing I was dinged on was my involvement with my people. Seems a couple of them didn't like the way I was running things, and complained that I wasn't informing them of every little detail. I am taking my boss's advice and offer to attend a couple of seminars this summer to "improve" my abilities as a supervisor. Anything to better myself as a boss.

My SciFi Life from London, UK on June 21, 2013:

this is really good and useful information! thanks for posting it and sharing it with the world. communication is absolutely the key ... i 100% agree.

Rambo Fen from Raipur on June 21, 2013:

It's a must read for all the bosses and also there employees...Creating a friendly atmosphere really works and it's the key to successful business. Very well written.

Maja Dali from Slovenia on June 21, 2013:

I think that a lot of bosses should read this post.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on June 08, 2013:

It's refreshing when someone rises because of merit from time to time. Keep it up.

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on June 08, 2013:

Honestly, sometimes I have trouble following my own advice. I try to be a good supervisor, but everyone does have faults. Fortunately, I did earn my position out of hard work and trying to be a fair boss. Not everyone agrees with my decisions, but my decisions do "stand the test of time".

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on June 08, 2013:

Having been a supervisor myself I can relate to a lot of what you are discussing here. Unfortunately, most people in higher management do not follow the advice you give here, and it is a wonder that they ever got promoted to higher levels of responsibility. Unfortunately promotion is often times based on politics and not competence, but in a perfect world your tips are right on the money.

Martin Lu from Palmerston North, New Zealand on May 24, 2013:

You must be a good leader

Jackie Nation from NH-> FL on May 21, 2013:

I really enjoyed this hub! great points, i believe two of the most important you mentioned were providing feedback and LISTENING to your staff... so imperative to building a team based environment and in my personal experience, having employees who respect and want to work hard for you. I wonder if maybe you forget to bring the quality of leadership into this article?

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on November 29, 2012:

I'm glad you enjoyed it, thank you!

JodiGreen on November 29, 2012:

I enjoyed reading this hub, you have some concrete points on management~!

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on November 27, 2012:

I'm glad you agree. At first I thought a supervisor was just there to direct and give orders. In time I learned I need to help my staff grow. Thank you for your comment.

tipstoretireearly from New York on November 27, 2012:

Great list of tips! Communicating with your direct reports is definitely a key to being a good supervisor. So is respecting each person's abilities. Its also important to put effort into your role of helping each of your direct reports develop their talents and help them with their careers.

Marie Conwell from Muncie, Indiana on September 15, 2012:

Thanks for the advice and sharing. I said I wouldn't do it, but I hired my sons girlfriend. And of course it's just not working out so well. I try to guide her and keep the personal feelings out of it but WOW that's hard! My own fault. She's mad at me now because I had a position come open and wouldn't even consider hiring her close friend. No, I considered it... gave the woman an interview..... but NO, that's not going to happen! The frustration of all the high school drama that never seems to grow up and go away is unreal sometimes!

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on September 15, 2012:

Thank you very much good sir!

DMVmimay on September 06, 2012:

Great job! this will open door to people :D

keep sharing David, very nice!

like it...

unizm1980 on September 05, 2012:

Being a supervisor is a tough job but being a good supervisor is harder. It entails a lot of effort and experience. Thank you very much for sharing your experience and posting some guidelines on how to correct it.

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on August 24, 2012:

I hope in the future that in case I get promoted, I may be able to follow these advices. But for now, I hope our current supervisor is almost like that! Thanks for the great hub. :)

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on August 06, 2012:

I'm sorry to hear that! A lot of my experience was on the job, but there are some things that are hard to teach. I try to instill this into all of my new supervisors though as I talk and train them. Glad you found it useful though, thank you!

chrisinhawaii on July 31, 2012:

I like your hub, David. I wish I had read something like this back when I was promoted to supervisor. I received no training whatsoever, but as I was a working supervisor, I guess they just assumed I already knew what I needed to know. I received more guidance from your little hub than I received from my own company! How lame is that! =)

Oh well. Too late now. But I wish I had known back then. Voted up and useful. Aloha!

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on June 28, 2012:

I'm glad that it helped! And good luck, you'll need it!

rwilson on June 27, 2012:

I have been placed in a supervisory position for the first time. Even though it is just one individual that I will be supervising, it is still important to do do the job well and be able to get the most out of that individual in the most appropriate and correct way. Your piece has really given me some really helpful tips. Thank you very much

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on January 12, 2012:

@ natures45friend - Thank you very much. As a supervisor I always struggle, but I learn something new every day.

natures47friend from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand. on January 12, 2012:

Great hub. You must be doing well now if you follow all you have written here. Voted up.