What’s your parenting, er, supervising style?

A book about parenting style has me wondering about supervision within the workplace.

I don’t mean to suggest that parenting and managing are equivalent roles. But parenting and managing share two important characteristics: there is a power-dynamic inherent in the relationship; human beings are involved on both sides of that power-dynamic.

And occasionally I’ve heard frustrated supervisors make comments about their teams such as, “I wish they’d just grow up!” or “Why can’t they just play nice!”  That makes me curious about the crossover.

Here’s a quick situation illustrating the six different parenting styles from Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children by Jean IIlsey Clark.

Situation: Teenager is tempted by peer pressure to use alcohol.
The parenting styles:
  • Abuse: Regularly searches teen’s personal belongings, listens in on phone conversations. Slaps him around after hearing there was beer at a party he attended.
  • Conditional Care: Says, “I love you as long as you don’t drink.” Or, ‘You’ll be the death of me if you drink.”
  • Assertive Care: Does not offer liquor to teenagers. Offers car when appropriate so teen doesn’t have to ride with peers who are drinking. Affirms love for and importance of the teen on an ongoing basis.
  • Supportive Care: Does not drink or uses in moderation, never to intoxication. Acknowledges peer pressure to use. Asks how to be of help. Encourages teen to develop awareness and skills for coping with pressure. Celebrates successes.
  • Overindulgence: Offers to buy liquor for teen.
  • Neglect: Drinks to excess, is emotionally and/or physically absent, doesn’t notice kid is drunk.

While this example compresses the complex issue of teens and alcohol use, it illustrates the six different approaches described by Clark.

She considers the assertive and supportive care styles to be the most effective for healthy development. These two styles share similar traits: talking with the person, behaving in ways that model desired behaviors, believing in the person’s ability to learn and grow, and affirming connection and caring.

Those sound like the traits of effective supervisors too.

How might these six styles play out in the workplace? I’ll change a few of the details and let’s see what happens.

Situation: Employee is a strong performer but seems to foment conflict and chaos on the team.
The supervising styles:
  • Abuse: Regularly searches the employee’s work space, computer use, and personal belongings looking for evidence to use against him; listens in on phone conversations.
  • Conditional Care: Says, “You do good work, but I can’t respect  someone who creates so many problems for others.” Or, ‘If you don’t shape up, you are out of here.”
  • Assertive Care: Clarifies expectations about job performance and team interactions. Shares feedback about skills in need of development. Clarifies natural consequences of instigating conflict with others. Affirms commitment to support the employee’s ongoing development.
  • Supportive Care: Models effective dialogue and problem solving skills with the employee. Acknowledges challenges of working with diverse styles on a team. Asks how to be of help. Encourages employee to develop awareness and skills for coping with stress. Celebrates successes.
  • Overindulgence: Promotes the employee to a Lead role because of his strong individual contributor performance. Believes that his natural leadership abilities will shine in the Lead spotlight, and his faults will go away.
  • Neglect: States an “Open Door” policy, then keeps the door closed. Never walks around the team’s area or seeks feedback from employees.

While this example also compresses a complex situation, I’ve seen all of these supervisor styles used in the workplace. From my vantage, only the assertive and supportive care styles promote healthy employee development and engagement.

Do you notice these styles showing up in the workplace? Which do you tend to use? Which do you best respond to?

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