The Situation

Preston is already late for work and feeling stressed by the fresh Monday morning that is upon him. He decides to stop for coffee anyway. The five mile drive to his office seems more like fifty. He is in his seventh month as production supervisor and it feels like seven years. "How did it get this bad so fast?" he thinks to himself. He used to love his job and his life. He is twenty nine years old with a three year old baby boy at home. His relationship with his wife Cindy is very good. And yet, he is so miserable. That faint, yet undeniable sick feeling is coming back and he ponders whether he needs to vomit again today.

The company offered Preston his supervisor position because he is a good worker, smart, and eager to learn. He is a very good problem-solver and seems to be respected by his co-workers. A natural fit for the supervisor position is what the company thought. Yet, why is he so unhappy?

The truth about his situation is that he really loves operating the machines. He is content to come to work, set-up his machine, and produce the products. Preston is not focused on work as the center of life. He is good at producing but his mind is more occupied by his family and the hobbies this job has allowed him time and the opportunity to enjoy. His new fishing boat has not been in the water in over three months. He usually works twelve hours a day instead of eight and cannot remember the last time his family had supper together. He brings home more money but when figures hours actually worked, it is less per hour than he made before the promotion. Many Saturdays are spent at the plant and his buddies cannot understand why he says no to the many invitations they offer.

His crew (twenty-two employees) is mostly seasoned veterans with a painful past. The cyclical business cycle has filtered most of the good attitudes from the organization leaving those that cannot find another job to work for Preston. Preston is younger than most of his employees and often ridiculed as a "company man" behind his back. There are a couple of good people on his team but they find it easier to follow the pack rather than support Preston. Employees have learned how to "work-the system" and often miss work based on allowable "points" for attendance. Most days have three or four employees out for some reason or another. He has to fill-in where he can and human resources offers little help or advice to better his team.

Preston feels like he has made a big mistake. Life was good before his promotion. He made good money and enjoyed life. He had time to spend with his family and actually do the things he loves. No one prepared him for this situation. He has not been taught how to supervise others. Someone assumed he would do a good job. He is going to do his best and hopes it gets easier and better over time. He is afraid to let those that promoted him to this supervisor position down. He does not want his family to think he failed as a supervisor. They always say how proud they are of him. He feels sick each time he hears them brag about his new position as a supervisor. He wonders if there is a path back to the normal he once knew. He secretly wishes he could get let-go so he can start over. He will never make this mistake again.

Preston's situation is very common today. With so many baby-boomers exiting the workplace, most companies have no strategy to replace the leaders of the present. People are promoted to leadership positions based on an extremely flawed logic. Many companies presume that if someone is good at something they will also be good at supervising the same activity. This is absolutely false in many cases. It requires a completely different set of skills to supervise an activity. The best analogy is sports and coaching. A player that excels on the field will most likely not excel as a coach. The skill and talent to organize and catalyze commitment to an activity or a purpose is different from completing an activity.

Yet, what makes this situation so common? I think the situation existed all along and remained a minor problem during the era of the baby boomer worker. These employees would remain through the tenure of bad supervisors and companies did not feel the pain of a bad promotion. Today however, Peter Drucker states the average working-life of employee now exceeds the average life span of a business enterprise. This means business is changing faster than the people who occupy positions in a business.

The answer to riddle is so simple to some and so challenging for others. Those that "get it" understand that innovation holds the key to long -term success. Exceptional and successful leaders understand that we must be rated on how much we "change" our jobs rather than how we "perform" our jobs. The need for training and development of new leaders to adapt and thrive in this new world is the key. The twenty and thirty something dominated workforce of the next ten years will create the change anyway. Only the companies that prepare the current and next generation of leaders are going to thrive. Those organizations that ignore what is most certainly coming are going to suffer greatly.


John Grubbs, MBA, CSTM, RPIH, is the principal consultant and owner of GCI, a full service training and consulting firm in Longview, Texas. Specializations include executive coaching, human resource consulting, safety consulting, behavior-based safety implementation and leadership training for supervisors, managers and executives. Clients include healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, education and service organizations. John has over 15 years of leadership experience, published several book...

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