8 Supervisor Tips For Getting More Done [Guest Post]

When I took over my duty position, my supervisor told me that in order to succeed, I needed to get more involved in orders and taskings than the officer I replaced. I did the opposite and got better results. Here’s how.

Gen. Raymond Odierno presents a coin to a Soldier wearing a Level A, hazardous materials, suit Jan. 13. Soldiers from the Incident Response Training Department provided Odierno with a demonstration of the different equipment, training and techniques used in case of a chemical incident. Link to photo.

The author is a US Army officer, student of productivity, and lover of kettlebells, burpees, coffee, and cigars. He runs the MISSION: Capable blog at www.BeMissionCapable.com.

Taking Charge

Every time I took over a platoon, section, or company in my first 10 years in the Army, my inclination was to get very involved, to get into the nitty-gritty details of how things run. I wanted to understand not only what everyone did but why and how. I did this partly because I am detail-oriented but mostly because I thought this is what Army leaders do.

We take over by developing an understanding about what everyone does at, below, and above our level. Then we keep overwatch to ensure everything stays on track. When given the opportunity to know more or less about something our subordinates are doing, we always choose more. We never let something go outside our unit or to our boss without our review. We are copied on most email traffic in the office so we are always aware of all our missions in case someone asks for an update.

We put many of these systems in place when we are uncomfortable with the unknowns of our new environment. Despite being more comfortable over time, we keep these redundant, over-informative, and distracting systems in place.

My New Job

On day 1, the Chief of Staff (my supervisor as well as the supervisor of five other sections) was aware of all taskings in detail and kept a personal Excel spreadsheet as to their status. The Chief of Operations could tell you the status of most orders and taskings off the top of his head. So could the assistant ops officer. So could our NCOs. For the first 30 days, I read every order and tasking that came from our higher HQ. I was copied and/or consulted on most basic battle rhythm decisions, as had been the norm.

On day 30, I made the following changes: I stopped reading post operations orders and taskings entirely; I removed by boss from the orders and taskings distro from our unit’s G3 office; and I removed myself and my boss from being copied on every tasking that was sent out of our office. Then I waited.

Know what happened? We got more productive. My boss and I had more time to focus. We received fewer emails. It allowed me to open up time to work on strategic projects and future operations. It allowed my subordinates to move forward faster.

No need to keep updating me unless it requires
my personal attention or they need guidance.

Initially some people were uncomfortable with this managerial style. They felt the need to keep updating me on everything. I listened to them politely then told them I know they are professionals. I know they are on top of it. No need to keep updating me unless it requires my personal attention or they need guidance.

Since that time last year, I have consciously chosen to be less informed versus more informed when given an opportunity. I have removed myself from more email distros (I was on at least 10) that many other people are already on. I am doing far more valuable work then my predecessor was able to do. Our office runs better than before.

8 Tips for Supervisor Success

  1. Make sure your hands-off style is understood. You don’t want everyone thinking you are lazy or that you don’t care. Trusting someone to do things without supervision looks a lot like not caring what they do from afar. When they see the new and/or better things you are doing with your time, it will be apparent you are making a difference for the better.
  2. Think of potential impacts in terms of the most likely and most dangerous courses of action. If some tasking doesn’t get done, what is the worst that could happen? What is the most likely thing that will happen? If you produce 80% of the results with 50% of the man hours and it results in a few dropped balls every quarter, you are ahead (if they aren’t catastrophic).
  3. Be OK with some failed missions. If you have triple redundancy, there won’t be any defects. You also will have three people doing the work of one.
  4. Know when you need to be involved. Some orders and taskings do require my knowledge. I have learned which ones need my attention over time and get into the details for them.
  5. Be comfortable telling your boss you don’t know something. If my supervisor asks me about “that tasking order about X”, I usually say I have to check and get back to them. Some people like to be prepared for every question so they always look on top of things. If you know these details as a field grade officer, you probably aren’t using the skills the Army needs you to use.
  6. When something goes wrong once, resist the temptation to over-correct. If your system is sound and has proven as much in the past, one misstep shouldn’t force you to add in layers to prevent it from happening again. You have to determine if it is the cost of doing business or if something is actually broken.
  7. Defining priorities is the most important guidance you can give. Your subordinates need to know where to focus when presented with many ways to spend their time. Not everything is important. Some things should be ignored. The last email request you got shouldn’t necessarily become your next mission.
  8. Encourage focus. If we are working on a priority mission in our office, I fully expect emails to go unread and phones to go unanswered. I am perfectly fine with my subordinates telling me they didn’t open Outlook all morning. The truth is the more times you are disturbed, the longer it takes to get the same product. Anyone who tells you they are good at multi-tasking is lying to both you and themselves.

You may read this and say that you already let your subordinates run without micromanagement. But can you let even more go without your involvement? Can you eliminate one more rehearsal of the rehearsal or a pre-brief before the brief? Are you comfortable saying you don’t know how something in your office gets done? Are you OK with some unimportant things falling through the cracks if it opens up time for other more valuable missions?

Make no mistake, I am not recommending you do less work. I am recommending you do less unnecessary work. I am recommending you do more with the time you have as well as maximize the time of your subordinates. Think of all the other things you can do with this “found” time. Maybe planning a future operation, taking on new responsibilities, or just doing the routine things better is reward enough.

Questions for Leaders

  • What level of trust would you have to achieve before minimizing the amount of details you require?
  • What other managerial techniques have produced results for you?
  • Do you think it’s ever ok in the military to “Be OK with some failed missions?”
  • How does this mentality fit into your approach to dealing with serious incidents and safety standards?

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Originally published at www.themilitaryleader.com on April 21, 2015.