The Differences Between Leadership and Supervising

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While leadership and supervision are closely related and interconnected, they are not always one and the same thing. Many of us have been in workplaces where one person is in charge, but a lower-ranked employee actually has more influence over the other workers for better or worse. It feels so much better when supervisors have strong leadership skills and intentionally collaborate with other leaders within the organization whether they have an official supervisory title or not.

Leader vs. Supervisor

Though leaders are sometimes supervisors, that is not always the case. Leaders possess qualities that empower them to attain great influence among other employees. They understand the mission and vision of the organization and are committed to it with every decision and every interaction. Leaders attract people rather than having to chase them. Having leaders around makes work more efficient and enjoyable.

Respected leaders are excellent listeners who understand what makes people tick and are excellent at making genuine connections with people. They have healthy communication skills, are trustworthy and naturally know how to unite people to work together. They notice what people have in common and spotlight those commonalities to help people connect and work as a team to get things done.

While supervisors are sometimes excellent leaders, this is not always the case. Supervisors are responsible for overseeing a team of employees. Their duties often include the following:

  • Set goals, projections and deadlines
  • Delegate tasks and responsibilities to employees in an organized way
  • Conduct employee performance reviews
  • Coach employees to improve performance and work with under-performers
  • Keep track of employee time records
  • Enact disciplinary action when necessary
  • Communicate with upper management about expectations
  • Assist in hiring and training new employees
  • Uphold company policies and procedures

Decisions, Resources and Excellence

Being in leadership means needing to be able to filter out the noise in order to clearly see the pros and cons of various decisions and to choose the best alternative. People can count on leaders to have a level-headed perspective instead of being reactive. Exceptional leaders understand that resources are not unlimited, and so they try to use them as efficiently as possible. This means employing time management, seeing ways to cut costs without cutting quality and being respectful of other people's time.

Leaders see the goal they are striving toward and do not quit when difficulties arise. Instead, they change course and reach their goal with excellence, giving their best and encouraging others to do the same. They provide mentoring and encouragement to get the job done in a positive way with as little stress as possible.

Leaders Who Are Not Supervisors

Since leadership and supervision are not always synonymous, most organizations possess excellent leaders who do not hold formal supervisory titles. People notice the difference between leader and supervisor traits by how they behave and how others behave around them. A savvy supervisor will notice informal leaders in the organization who attract followers, earn respect, recognize problem-solving opportunities and unite other employees.

Some employees set a precedent with their high or low standard of work, and other employees follow suit. For instance, the top seller on your team might practice a particular customer interaction protocol that gets results. When other employees notice that, they follow suit and implement the same protocol in their own practice.

Almost every office has someone people trust with their problems, emotions, questions or concerns. This person has a reputation for integrity; he is dependable, on time and personable. Look for the people in your organization to whom others flock for help, and you are likely to find a strong leader.

Unofficial Leaders Unite Employees

During company meetings, there might be one or more people who are consistent innovators. They have creative problem-solving ideas that bring a quick close to issues that seemed insurmountable before. Their problem-solving skills make everyone's work life a little easier and more enjoyable, and they take pleasure in that.

Look for individuals with a can-do attitude who bring other employees together in a mission to accomplish a goal. Maybe your sales goal for this quarter is twice what it was last year, and people feel discouraged. The uniting employee has enthusiasm and optimism that create unstoppable energy to get things done.

While most nonsupervisory leaders are likely positive influences on your team, there might also be leaders who exert a negative influence. Watch out for people who unite employees in griping fests, convince people that success is impossible or start a trend of leaving work early and taking long lunches. These are individuals with whom to strengthen relationships, equip with more positive coping skills or even move to a different role in your organization.

Supervisors Who Are Not Leaders

Sometimes, the people listed as supervisors do not really have very many leadership skills at all. These individuals fulfill the supervisory job duties that involve being in charge but forget that getting things done well means nurturing collaboration and healthy relationships. When supervisors lack leadership skills, they tend to become authoritarian and hand out orders more than collaborating and asking for input. They are unwilling to share their authority with anyone or make use of other people's strengths.

Supervisors lack leadership sense when they demonstrate a lack of gratitude for the contributions of their team. Even though the leader would not be capable of performing all the work of the team on her own, she does not say thanks or give others a pat on the back. These individuals can never be wrong, even when others kindly point out concerns or notice things that are not as they should be. Supervisors without strong leadership skills are fear-motivated, which is why they hoard authority, do not show gratitude and are afraid of being wrong.

Poor Leadership and Self-Appearances

When supervisors are secretive with their communication, it is a huge red flag. They might withhold key information, keep interactions with higher management a secret or only accept input from individual employees behind closed doors. Supervisors who are more concerned with their appearance to higher management than with the well-being of their employees are not healthy leaders. They tend to expect their employees to meet unrealistic demands and timelines just so they will look good.

Even when team members are more responsible for meeting a goal than they are, an unhealthy supervisor will take credit for other people's accomplishments as if they were his own. He might claim to have come up with ideas that were not really his or say he motivated the team when another employee was actually responsible. His employees tend to become discouraged, often wondering if anything they do will ever be noticed or appreciated or will help to further their own careers.

Supervisors Who Are Also Leaders

When people combine leadership and supervision skills, they can produce game-changing results in the workplace because they have top-notch people skills along with the power to make important decisions. Instead of nurturing an employee or leader vs. supervisor mentality, where informal leaders in your organization are at odds with supervisors, these individuals collaborate with other leaders. They recognize they cannot be the best in every single leadership area, so they work together with other leaders who are strong where they are weak.

Supervisors who are leaders give credit where credit is due and help people become their best through calling out their strengths and helping them focus there rather than on their weak areas. They foster a culture of celebration where everyone's contributions are valued and seen. Supervisors with strong leadership skills understand formal and informal organizational relationships. They see who communicates with whom, who goes out to lunch with whom and who is friends with whom and encourage these relationships and use them to the benefit of the whole team.

Leader Supervisors and Growth

Strong leaders understand their own strengths and growth areas and are not afraid to admit them. Instead of pointing fingers, they take responsibility and are committed to continued personal and professional growth. Their ability to be OK with imperfection gives others on the team the permission to still be works in progress too.
Effective supervisor-leaders understand that breaking down communication barriers, like an employee leader vs. supervisor mentality, leads to growth and a healthier workplace. They share any information they are permitted to share and are willing to accept feedback from a group rather than just individuals.

This is because good leaders are concerned with their team's well-being because they understand that everyone's long-term success depends on it. If deadlines or goals are too harsh, and they notice team well-being going downhill, a good leader will interrupt the process to change goals or find more realistic ways to obtain them.

Leader Supervisors and Relationships

Leader-supervisors are relationship-oriented more than authority-oriented. They care more about connecting with employees, customers and their own supervisors than they do about looking good. They are willing to take one for the team and ensure their employees' best interests.

Because of their relational emphasis, strong leaders are often looked up to as supervisors who can help their teams problem solve, better communicate and enjoy working together. They might offer mediation services, take the lead on celebrating office birthdays or set up a yearly holiday gathering. Leaders encourage their teams to build rapport and morale because of the professional benefits it fosters.

Strengthening Your Leadership Skills

Even for the best of leader supervisors, there is always room for growth. Pursue a morning routine that helps you develop personally and professionally. In Hal Elrod's "miracle morning", he prescribes these life S.A.V.E.R.S:

  • Silence
  • Affirmations
  • Visualization
  • Exercise
  • Reading
  • Scribing

This morning routine helps get you in the habit of strengthening your growth areas in order to achieve goals that make you your best for yourself and your team.

You can also strengthen your leadership skills by seeking outside help. Consider working with a supervisor or business coach who can help you map out a plan that polishes your ability to be a positive team influence. Conferences, professional reading and networking are other excellent ways to get new leadership ideas and continue to grow.

Mentoring Leaders for Supervisory Positions

One big difference between leader and supervisor roles lies in the ability to make important decisions about staffing, policies, goals and deadlines. Some of your employees might notice differences between leader and supervisor reach and authority and hope to move up in the company, or you might start to see that your business would perform better with your top leaders in supervisory positions.

You can foster some of the following characteristics and practices as you mentor your leaders to step into roles as official supervisors:

  • Relationship building
  • Character development
  • Loyalty and optimism

Through these characteristics, your mentees will come to trust you and look up to you as someone they can trust to guide and teach them as leaders. When you encourage these traits through weekly coaching meetings, open lines of communication and transparency, you are on your way to ensuring your best leaders also become supervisors.

References

About the Author

Anne Kinsey is an entrepreneur and business pioneer, who has ranked in the top 1% of the direct sales industry, growing a large team and earning the title of Senior Team Manager during her time with Jamberry. She is the nonprofit founder and executive director of Love Powered Life, as well as a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach, certified HRV biofeedback practitioner and freelance writer who has written for publications like Working Mother, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle and Our Everyday Life. Anne works from her home office in rural North Carolina, where she resides with her husband and three children.