The art of leading people has been a fascinating topic throughout history
Although an endless number of theories have been proposed to explain why some men are good leaders and why others fail miserably.
All theories possess a common theme: Successful leadership depends on one's ability to influence others for a specific purpose.
Supervisors should be leaders.
They should be able to understand the needs and wants of their employees, and be able to use this knowledge to motivate them.
Supervisors should be interested in helping employees achieve their maximum potential.
To examine the leadership aspects of a supervisors' job,
we begin by exploring the qualities of leadership and end by examining some of the activities supervisors must perform as leaders.


For many years, people believed that the traits of leadership were inborn.
Today this theory of leadership has been abandoned.
Almost everyone agrees that leadership can be learned.
People are often puzzled when one person is promoted to an executive position and others who seem brighter than he or she is remain in less important jobs.
The answer is that people who want to be successful know what they want and go after it.
These people are highly motivated and have developed plans to channel their motivations.
Part of this planning involves learning how to be a supervisor.
Fortunately there are unlimited ways for people to learn.
Some of the more obvious include the following:
  1. Learn from your own supervisor
  2. Learn from top management
  3. Take advantage of all training offered by the company
  4. Avail yourself of formal course offerings
  5. Schedule a reading programme for yourself
To determine your qualifications for leadership, you may want to take the following test
The qualifications for supervisory success might be viewed as positive answers to the following questions.

Do you like to deal with people
Of prime importance to supervisory success is the ability to get along with people.
Leaders must be able to co-operate with all organisational leaders and receive needed co-operation from all organisational levels.
Their job does not entail winning popularity, but rather involves gaining group co-operation,
so that an integrated effort can be made to accomplish the goals of the Company

Have you completely mastered your job
Before people can expect to be promoted to a higher level,
they must have performed to the best of their ability at their present position.

Do you look for better methods
Supervisors must be alert to possibilities of improving company image, improving employer employee relations,
decreasing costs, increasing quality, saving time, etc.
Supervisors must use creative thinking and be able to visualise, understand, and develop new methods
to replace outdated ones.

Do you reach out for responsibility
Supervisors must be able to assume the responsibilities of their job in terms of their own performance
and the performance of their subordinates. Supervisors must follow a job through even though it requires
extra time and effort, They must be able to delegate duties to others and share their knowledge
and experience with their co-workers.

Are you willing to keep learning
The learning process never stops.
Whether one manages a large factory or a corner news stand, all jobs require up-to-date knowledge.
Supervisors must constantly gain current information about the Company, its products, its competition,
customer needs, and the marketplace.

How do you react to criticism
Successful supervisors must be able to accept failure without anger or resentment and not let their pride
sway the facts.

Do you express yourself clearly
If supervisors cannot get ideas across and communicate them effectively, their ability as
supervisors will be severely hampered.
Supervisors must develop speaking skills, writing skills, and grammar skills to enable themselves
to be understood.

Do you think positively
Although every problem faced has both good and bad aspects. the supervisors cannot let
themselves develop pessimistic attitudes If workers see their "leader" with a negative attitude,
they, too, will develop one.

Do you thrive on competition
By the nature of their job supervisors must thrive on competition.
They are constantly in competition with others for their job, their workers, and their products.


To be an effective supervisor, a person must make a never ending attempt at developing and improving his
knowledge of leadership. Supervisors must be motivated to learn everything they can about their jobs,
the needs and activities of their subordinates, and the overall activities of the firm.

Learning to be a supervisor, therefore, should involve development of the skills necessary for leadership.
These skills are basically of three types: human skills, technical skills, and conceptual skills.
Human skills
Human skills involve the ability to work with people. Unless supervisors can communicate with people,
they may as well try to move mountains. Supervisors must understand human relations.
They must be able to motivate people, satisfy their needs, and promote co-operation between and
among them so that the goals of the organisation can be accomplished.
They have to be able to "sell" an idea to their employees and co-ordinate their activities into
an integrated network.

To understand some of the important ways in which supervisors must work with people.

Technical skills
Whereas human skills concern the supervisor's ability to lead people, technical skills
involve the supervisor's abilities to perform specific duties and tasks required by his or her position.
Knowledge of specific job processes and administrative duties is essential
if the supervisor is to perform his job:
for example, the manager must know the specific managerial requirements of the position,
as well as the duties performed. by the employees. As a manager, he must know what to order',
when to order etc.

Conceptual skills
In addition to human and technical skills, every supervisor must have conceptual skills.
These skills may be viewed as the ability to see the big picture.
Supervisors must be able to see how their particular department or division relates to the overall
If supervisors see their department as the entire store rather than a portion of it,
serious problems can arise. Supervisors who "see trees instead of the forest" lack the perspective
to make a total contribution to the firm.

The actions of supervisors are at least as important as their intentions.
The adage that actions speak louder than words never held truer.
In discharging their duties, good supervisors:

  • - demonstrate organised thinking.
  • - use good judgment.
  • - know what and when to delegate
  • - set goals and build work schedules.
  • - are fair
  • - are consistent
  • - act on facts
  • - accept changes.
  • - give recognition.
  • - treat everyone as individuals
  • - let their people know how they are doing.
  • - do not pass the buck.
  • - answer questions honestly and fully

For the most part, poor performance can be attributed to employee discontent, which can stem from a variety of causes:

  • - Failure to receive credit for ideas and suggestions.
  • - Not knowing where he stands with regard to his performance
  • - Not being kept informed on changes,
  • - Failure to have grievances recognized or acted up on.
  • - Favouritism.
  • - Being criticized in the presence of others.
  • - A supervisor who is too aloof and does nor accept the opinion of others.
  • - Not being held accountable.
  • - Being part of a poorly disciplined work force.

There is really no magic in improving poor work performance.
Just talk with people.
Talk about some very simple questions that most people want to discuss.
Follow this with guidance. encouragement and recognition, and the job will get done.


One activity that requires the supervisor to apply all of his human, technical, and conceptual skills
is the training activity. As stated before training is an important part of the supervisor's job.
Training must go on continuously. When a new employee is hired, when a job operation is changed,
when equipment is introduced or new procedures are to be used, the supervisor must train the people involved.
It is their skills and abilities that determine the success of the company.
The extremely important function of training, then, increases the basic skills and abilities of all employees,
and therefore increases efficiency

how employees learn
increasing the basic skills and abilities of employees through training is difficult.
There are no definite rules to follow in determining how employees learn because employees
are all individuals and are, therefore, very different.
There are also no specific rules to follow in training employees.
There are, however, some guidelines that will apply to most employees

Guideline 1. People learn when they are ready and willing to learn.
Supervisors will find it difficult to teach employees unless they are ready and willing to learn.
Because learning is difficult and requires attention and concentration.
Supervisors should always try to provide an environment that is conducive to learning.
Especially in on-the-job-training, learning suffers from the distractions of noise.

Guideline 2. Employees learn when they see a need to know.
The desire to learn must be present in employees before they will learn.
They must see a need to know that which is being taught.
Supervisors must create a situation in which employees will see a direct personal value in
learning and recognize that the new knowledge and skills being taught will help them satisfy
a direct personal need in the day-to-day job.

Guideline 3. Employees learn by hearing, seeing, doing, and thinking.
Every employee learns in different ways.
Some of them learn best by hearing, others by seeing, and some by doing.
Characteristic of all learning, however, is that it requires involvement and thinking.
Depending on what they are attempting to teach, supervisors should try to use as many
training techniques as possible. In this way, they will be able to adjust to the individual
differences of the trainees.
It is important to recognize that the more of the five senses that can be involved,
the greater will be the comprehension and retention of what is presented.
Every effort Should be made to use charts, graphs, blackboards. outlines, pictures, diagrams,
and other training aids that can reinforce what is said and what is done, and therefore, promote learning.

Guideline 4. Employees learn by participating.
There can never be any lasting effects to the training process unless the employee actively participates
In on-the-job training employees must follow the presentation mentally as well as physically.
In classroom training employees must be forced to use their powers of reasoning to integrate
their new knowledge and skills with those they already possess
Only then can the new knowledge and skills become a part of their thought processes and, thus,
direct and influence their future behaviour. There is increased interest and motivation in exercises
in which the actions taken closely duplicate conditions on the job.

Guideline 5. Employees learn through associations and impressions.
Supervisors should try to find out about the interests and the past experiences of employees
and relate what is being taught to what they already know. When working with an experienced employee,
an "as you know" approach can be used, this indicates that the employee already knows the material
and needs only to be made conscious of it once again.
Every aspect of what supervisors do and say makes an impression on employees.
First impressions must be good impressions. Cover the important subjects first.
because employees remember first impressions. Impressions should be made strongly.
When possible, use a striking example or put drama into the subject that is being discussed.
For example. if the importance of safety is the subject of a training session, refer to situations
in which failure to follow safety measures resulted in serious injury.
The effectiveness of the supervisor's ability as a trainer is measured by the learning that
takes place in employees. If employees have not learned, the supervisor has not taught.

techniques for promoting learning

Learning, is a difficult process.
It requires patience and careful preparation on the part of the supervisor.
When supervisors train, they should follow a basic framework designed to promote good learning:

Guideline 1. Have clearly defined objectives.
Supervisors must have clearly defined objectives in mind. Throughout the training period, supervisors should know in what way the things they are saying or doing help employees meet the training objectives. Each day employees should show personal progress, whether the progress is in the learning of a new skill, new knowledge, or the overcoming of an earlier weakness.
Guideline 2. Know what you are going to teach.
Supervisors should study their material carefully, reviewing it as often as necessary to make sure that they understand it completely. Training materials must be used skillfully. It is also important that sufficient time for training has been budgeted for the subject matter to be taught
Guideline 3. Know why employees should learn.
Throughout the training period, supervisors must know the importance of what is being taught and why employees should want to learn it. If employees understand why they are learning something, they will be motivated to learn it. Supervisors should outline for employees the material that they will teach. This will help employees establish their own goals as well as strengthen their desire to learn.
Guideline 4. Divide training into small parts.
Supervisors should decide what they want to teach: then they should break the subject down into small segments and teach the parts, moving through the sequence of segments only as rapidly as employees can grasp and comprehend the new material. Supervisors must use their judgment in fitting the breakdown to each individual. For those who learn slowly, the material must be divided into small parts. For those who understand quickly, larger segments can be used.
Guideline 5. Arrange the material in logical sequence.
The material supervisors want to teach should be arranged in a logical teaching learning sequence. Supervisors should proceed from what is known and understood by employees to unknown material and new skills. Training should proceed from the simple to the complex.
Guideline 6. Let learners practice and participate.
Employees should fully understand that which has been taught. Supervisors can learn quite a bit about the effectiveness of their training by observing employees as they apply their new knowledge and skills.
Guideline 7. Test, correct, and retrain.
Employees must be tested throughout the learning process to make certain they are progressing and learning on schedule. If they have not mastered the material, they should be corrected and retrained. Employees have no way of knowing whether their performance is good or bad unless they are told. Employees who know that they are doing the job correctly and that their efforts are appreciated will be receptive to future training. In making corrections, some of the following suggestions may be of help:
(a) Mistakes should be corrected tactfully. (b) Criticize the way the job is being performed, but avoid criticizing the individual. Correcting performance rather than the individual will maintain goodwill and co-operation. (c) Give praise before criticism. (d) Correct errors indirectly by making comparisons with what employees have done correctly. (e) Avoid criticizing a trainee in front of other employees or customers. (f) Supervisors should refrain from emphasizing their own abilities (g) When employees demonstrate good performance, indicate to them that it is the result of a well thought out procedure. (h) Avoid pettiness. Supervisors should not pick at an employee's performance by pointing out every minor mistake. Select the two or three most important weaknesses, and work on these. (i) Keep a sense of humour by placing errors in their proper perspective. (j) Avoid laughing at employees, but help them laugh with you. (k) Stress courtesy. and be courteous. (l) Avoid personal topics during training sessions.
Guideline 8 Follow up and smooth out the job.
When employees start applying what they have learned, weaknesses will appear. They may be the result of overemphasizing some aspect of what they have studied to the detriment of an overall performance. Supervisors must recognize such weaknesses and help employees work more smoothly by giving additional instructions when they are needed.
Guideline 9. Rebuild the segments Into a total unit.
Because training was conducted by teaching the parts, supervisors should summarize and put the parts back into the whole. This will help employees understand the totality of what they have been studying and will help them to simplify it in their own minds.


If supervisors are to lead, they must be able to motivate employees to perform tasks that are asked of them. Many times employees have to perform tasks that are boring and have little interest or challenge. In spite of the monotony of the work, however, the job must be performed. It is the supervisor's job to motivate employees to perform all of their duties.
Alternative Approaches To Motivation

The problems of motivation provide a challenge to the supervisor. Three approaches help clarify the process of motivation. The human need approach. The human need approach to motivation is based on the premise that the most effective motivators are those that act as satisfiers of employee needs and goals. motivation. It is important that the supervisor recognize two assumptions underlying this view. First, each individual may have different needs, and second, different motivational devices may satisfy the same need for different individuals.
Initiate and maintain employee activity which will ensure the accomplishment of goals. Provide the techniques whereby the employee can attain goals by following the advocated course. Convince each employee that his goals are worth the effort required to obtain them. Enhance the desirability of the needs in order to make them more attractive Communicate to the employee that his desire can be achieved by following the recommended procedures. Identify how the needs can be satisfied Discover each individual's needs and desires.
The authority approach.
The authority approach is based on the assumption that the supervisor's authority is the only factor necessary to motivate subordinates. In other words, subordinates will do the assigned tasks because they are told to do them and because they fear the consequences of doing otherwise. This is really a negative incentive view of motivation. It is doubtful that negative incentives such as loss of promotion, demotion, reprimands, or even loss of a job are motivation devices in the true sense of the concept. They may cause an employee to do an adequate job but seldom will they inspire him to perform to the best of his ability.
The financial approach.
The financial approach to motivation is based on the assumption that employees work to maximize their economic position. To some extent, this economic man concept has been discredited today. Money is only one of many factors important to the employee. Today, when people are relatively affluent and much of the work environment has become depersonalized, other factors may be much more important than additional money.
motivation in practice

Supervisors have many motivational tools available to them: pay increases, promotions, prizes, paid vacation, insurance plans, praise, and recognition. The key to successful motivation is to use one or a combination of these tools. Unfortunately, the supervisor may at times be forced to resort to the use of negative incentives. Supervisors can also use competition to motivate. Most people have a strong desire to win, and this can be channeled into a motivational device. It's amazing how monotonous jobs gain appeal and excitement when people are in competition with their peers.


Communication is the key to understanding others. It is only through communication that individuals are able to interact and relate to each other. If supervisors are to be effective leaders, they must be able to communicate. thereby influencing the performance of their employees.
forms of communication

Although communication is usually viewed as written or spoken, there are other ways in which people communicate. Lack of communication can be a form of communication. In many situations, nothing communicates better than dead silence. In oral communication a person's voice inflections can indicate how he feels. One of the best communicators is facial expression. Physical appearance also serves as communication. One of the oldest known forms of communication is a person's actions. The old parable that "Actions speak louder than words" is true.
barriers to communication

There are, unfortunately, barriers to communication, and supervisors must overcome them if they are to be effective leaders. There is, for example, the poorly expressed message in which the supervisor uses words or illustrations that have no meaning to the employee. There are the semantic differences when words have different meanings to different individuals. Also there are the role differences - merely because a supervisor is a supervisor and a subordinate is a subordinate, communications can become difficult. Subordinates, for example, may fear their supervisor and, thus, tell him what he wants to hear. Or subordinates may have little skill in expressing themselves whereas supervisors, because of the nature of their jobs, have considerable experience in communication. These barriers to communication are serious enough that it is important to overcome them. To do this supervisors must act. First, make a conscious attempt to break the barriers created by their organizational role. By transmitting ideas frankly and by encouraging their employees to make suggestions and offer opinions, supervisors can greatly reduce organisational tensions. When these status and role tensions are reduced, communication flows effectively. Second, supervisors can greatly increase understanding if they transmit their messages in the employee's frame of reference. By viewing the world as their employees do, supervisors can make their messages more effective. Third, supervisors should listen more. Everyone talks, but no one listens. If supervisors are to communicate effectively, they must listen so that they understand what is being said. The best listener often turns out to be the best communicator.