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The Ultimate Guide to Training a New Supervisor - HRDQ

The Ultimate Guide to Training a New Supervisor

In the past, you may have encountered a particular quotation about leadership. "True leaders are born, not made." 

This quote is repeated so often and in so many venues and forms that the source is long lost to time. It also has several critical flaws.

It's indicative of something called the "Great Man Theory" developed in the 1800s by the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle. His quotation often sums it up:

"Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at the bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world's history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these." – Thomas Carlyle.

Those of us with modern sensibilities find a few things wrong with this theory.

  • It discounts the influence of the environment and society on the development of an individual. Their genetics does not just determine people; after all, their socio-economic circumstances, upbringing, education, and more all influence their eventual position in life.
  • It is predicated on the assumption that people cannot learn to be leaders.

The truth is, leadership is not an inherent quality. Our modern understanding of leadership itself is changing.

Let's get started!

What Makes a Modern Leader?

Modern leadership comes in many forms and can be equally effective.

For example, in our assessment "What's My Leadership Style?", individuals take a multiple-choice test that grades their personality and leadership proclivities. This test helps categorize individuals into positions on a spectrum involving two qualities and how they intersect.

These qualities are assertiveness and expressiveness. Assertiveness is all about how forceful a leader is. Highly assertive leaders are typically charismatic and direct, while low assertiveness leaders take a more subtly influential role behind the scenes. Assertive leaders lead by example, while less assertive leaders build policies and frameworks that push teams in the right direction.

Modern Leader

Expressiveness is all about empathy and charisma. Through speeches and guidance, highly expressive leaders can "rally the troops" and inspire higher morale. Less emotive leaders make up for this gap by considering theory, implementing education and policies that push teams in the right direction, and planning more.

The "What's My Leadership Style?" assessment uses a series of questions to judge where an individual falls on this spectrum, with four possible results. While we'll cover them in brief here, you can read more about these styles in this blog post.

  • Highly assertive, less expressive: these individuals are Direct leaders.
  • Highly assertive, highly expressive: these individuals are Spirited leaders.
  • Less assertive, highly expressive: these individuals are considerate leaders.
  • Less assertive, less expressive: these individuals are systematic leaders.

The key is recognizing that being graded lower on either axis is not a negative trait.  Just because an individual is less assertive or less expressive does not mean they are an ineffective leader. Instead, it means that their best leadership style is simply different from others.

Modern leaders can lead in different ways. They can lead by example or lead by encouragement. They can lead by forming plans for everyone to follow, which have nested contingencies and cover all the bases. They can lead by building systems that encourage greatness and may never take the forefront themselves. All of these are equally valid.

Training a Modern Leadership Style

The only time an individual is likely to fail as a leader is when they attempt to lead via a leadership style they are not suited for. This situation is where the "Great Man" theory falls apart; it encourages a mindset where only one of the four leadership styles is valid. An individual in this role leads to two situations:

  • The people who would be great leaders operating in a different framework are not considered for a leadership position.
  • People who are aggressive but unsuited to true leadership are given leadership roles, where they falter and fail.

Additionally, this fails to recognize that leadership can occur at all levels of an organization. A business cannot survive with a strong leader as a CEO alone; it needs to have leaders throughout the organization, within the executive team, department heads, and team leads. Leaders, both great and small, are crucial for modern success.

Training Modern Leadership

The truth is, nearly anyone can become a leader, either of a small team or group or an entire organization. The potential is there in virtually anyone. All that they need is the proper guidance and training.

This need for training is where another of our assessments comes into play: the Supervisory Skills Questionnaire

This assessment facilitates two things. First, it allows existing supervisors to judge their position, learn where their strengths and weaknesses lie as supervisors and see how their direct reports view them. Second, it will enable those in non-supervisory positions to judge their effectiveness as supervisors.

Example of Training a New Employee

The Supervisory Skills Questionnaire is an essential component of training new leadership. It allows you to set a baseline and benchmark to understand where you are in your progress towards learning the skills and abilities necessary to lead a group of people. You can gain four critical outcomes from this assessment:

  • Learn and understand the core responsibilities and duties of a supervisory position.
  • Measure your performance in the five essential supervisory skills.
  • Benchmark your performance to understand which skills are already present and which need work.
  • Develop a plan to improve areas that need improvement to become an exemplary supervisor.

Very few people are naturally talented supervisors or leaders. How many people, fresh out of high school, can already take over a leadership position? Very few. This situation is why so many leadership programs encourage training, mentorship, sustained (and continued) education, and self-reflection. This assessment is part of that self-reflection and training.

The two key outcomes of this assessment are benchmarking and developing a plan to improve areas of weakness. After all, you can't know how to learn and grow if you don't know where you're starting.

How to Train New Leadership

There has been a perception that leaders are born rather than made. As such, high-level executives would seek out those who display the critical qualities of leadership, regardless of how narrow their perception of leadership may be. Often, the less visible leaders are passed over in favor of more charismatic individuals who may or may not even have leadership qualities.

The goal of modern leadership training is to remove this personal judgment and find people who are genuinely well-suited to leadership, no matter the leadership style. Thus, a current process may look like this:

Step 1: Gather a group of potential leaders.

Every business has potential leaders working for the organization. These leaders may have already risen through the ranks to managerial positions, or they may simply be operating quietly in the background, encouraging success without taking credit or working at the forefront. Existing leaders must identify the potential leaders within their organization, department, or team.

Group of Potential Leaders

It's relatively easy for smaller teams or organizations to assess the entire group and identify the potential leaders from among them. For larger organizations, initial filtering might be necessary to pick those most likely to succeed. However, be aware that any judgment not based on an objective assessment is potentially biased, either towards specific kinds of leadership or towards non-leadership qualities identified through personal bias.

Step 2: Proctor the supervisory skills assessment.

Once the initial group is gathered, the supervisory skills assessment becomes the first step to identifying those who meet or are close to the baseline of leadership.

Supervisory Skill Assessment

Depending on the assessment results, there may be individuals who are already ready to assume leadership positions. However, there will likely be several candidates who are almost – but not quite – leadership material.

Step 3: Analyze the assessment results and pick people with suitable qualities.

The supervisory skills assessment will allow you to identify those potential leadership candidates and find the areas where they need further training to succeed.

Analyze Assessment Results

You can then develop and implement customized training programs – perhaps based on other assessments or training processes – which can guide those individuals towards leadership positions.

Step 4: Deliver the What's My Leadership Style assessment to these leadership candidates.

Your training process can vary, but at some point, you should proctor the What's My Leadership Style assessment for your leadership candidates. This step allows you to identify what kind of leader they are.

It's essential to avoid shoehorning individuals into leadership programs that don't suit them. For example, a systematic leader will excel in a program that encourages long-term planning, strategic vision, and policy-making as a means to guide a group towards success.

Leadership Style Assessment

This process is a critical step because it allows you to develop an idea of where your leaders fall on the spectrum of leadership. If they are encouraged to take front-line leadership roles to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, they will likely falter. They can be very effective leaders, just not how a more spirited leadership style demands.

Leadership is not always about being a front-line general; it may be about supporting a team from behind or below, developing the policies that allow them to succeed—pushing rather than pulling.

Step 5: Assess the results of these tests and determine an education path for growth.

The key to these assessments and analyses is to use the information you glean to determine a unique, customized education and training track for your potential leaders.

Assess Test Results.jpg

As training proceeds, the assessments can be given again to analyze how the individual candidates have grown and internalized the tips and training.

Step 6: Educate, reinforce, assess, and promote successful leaders.

You can develop high-quality leadership through cyclical reinforcement, analysis, and training. Assessments such as ours are a critical part of this process. Still, it's essential to recognize that everyone has a unique path through their career, both individually and as part of an organization.

Educating Your Team

The training that works best for one individual may not work for another or could be unnecessary for a third. 

Encouraging a New Breed of Leaders

Leadership is born, but leadership is also made. Modern leaders can lead from many perspectives, some from the front line, others from the shadows. Great leaders make effective policies, and great leaders know when a procedure needs to be changed to facilitate success. It's all a matter of context.

Encouraging a New Breed of Leaders

At the core of all leadership training is the need to take a risk. No amount of training can fully prepare anyone for the pressures and requirements of a leadership position, nor can any amount of training guarantee that a business will not suffer from a new leader's poor decisions. Sooner or later, it would help if you risked handing over control to a leader to prove themselves.

The key is to recognize when a risk is worthwhile and when a risk is unfounded. Critical assessments into the essential aspects of leadership and supervisory skills will help determine whether an individual is potentially a great leader or still needs more work to get there.

Anyone can become a leader with the proper guidance and self-awareness. Assessments can help as part of an overall leadership track, but it's up to you to implement them.

Is this your first time training a supervisor for a leadership role? Have you used training materials in the past for supervisor training? Do you have any questions for us? Please let us know in the comments section below and we'll reply back within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to every comment we receive and would love to hear from you.

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.