The master-servant relationship -- otherwise known as the supervisor-employee relationship -- is one that is always being discussed, contemplated and revisited. Supervisors have difficulty dealing with a subordinate when they are newly promoted to supervisory rank, now in charge of employees who were once their peers. Also, supervisors experience problems dealing with subordinates who refuse to obey work directives and are insubordinate. Another challenge supervisors face is maintaining a leadership role instead of seeking popularity or being afraid of giving employees constructive feedback because they're afraid that employees will react negatively to feedback intended to improve performance.


As a supervisor, always maintain open and honest communication with your subordinates. Without regular, two-way communication between you and your employees, it's difficult to ensure that workers understand your performance expectations. And if employees don't know what you and the organization expect, it's impossible for them to achieve high performance ratings. However, communication is just the beginning of dealing with your subordinates effectively and in a manner that supports a productive working relationship. Communication is particularly important when you provide constructive feedback regarding performance deficiencies and when you conduct performance appraisal meetings. Don't let poor performance go unaddressed, and refrain from skipping the annual face-to-face meetings with your subordinates during performance appraisal season.


Management consultant Frederick Herzberg believed that an effective way to motivate employees was through recognition, which is one element of his two-factor, motivation-hygiene theory. Recognition, such as giving employees plum assignments when their performance warrants higher-level work and responsibilities, is one way to motivate subordinates. When you give employees more responsibility, they are inclined to want to prove that they're worthy of your recognition. In other words, they don't want to disappoint you when you've recognized that their skill sets are good enough to promote them to higher-level work.

Supervisor Popularity

As a supervisor, your goal isn't to increase your popularity. In fact, some of your decisions will be unpopular; however, as long as you stand firm regarding work-related decisions and are able to justify the business reasons that support your decisions, your employees will respect you. The alternative is being a supervisor who's more concerned about being popular among a small group of employees, catering to their whims rather than acting in the best interests of the entire work group.

Coaching Philosophy

Too many employers have discipline policies that suggest a parent-child relationship exists between supervisors and employees. There is no reason for an employee to be "punished" or feel that he's "in trouble" for matters that involve adult behavior in a workplace where adults work collaboratively. Get rid of the discipline-focused vernacular and use terms that signify employee coaching, positive reinforcement and performance counseling. Refrain from using terms and concepts that diminish employees' value to the organization. Incorporate language and ideas that demonstrate respect for your employees' talents, skills and qualifications.

Effective Leadership

Effective leaders stand to gain as much from their employees as their employees gain from their supervisors. Don't pass up opportunities to learn from employees who report to you. Management guru John Maxwell says, "Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them," which means your role as a supervisor should involve a fluid exchange of ideas from your perspective, as well as from your employees. You and your employees are, after all, working toward common goals -- overall productivity and profitability. Putting too much distance between you and your subordinates doesn't put you any closer to the company's overall objectives.