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Your First Underling

Who, me? A supervisor? It happens to most professionals at some point, even though a variety of “buts” may come to mind—“I’m too young” or “I’m too new.” I had both of those thoughts when, at the ripe old age of 22 and fresh out of college, I was given my first supervisory role. I was assigned interns who were only a year or two younger than I was, and I remember being in a state of panic. “I don’t even know what I’m doing,” I thought, “so how am I supposed to teach them anything?!”

When you’re assigned supervisory duties, your first step toward success is taking the job seriously. Remember that this isn’t all about you; your words and direction can have a very real impact on the person or group you’re managing. First-time managers often fall into two deadly traps: turning into the uppity, power-mad boss we all vow we’ll never become, or turning into your supervisees’ friend because you don’t think you have what it takes to be their boss. Neither is smart. Instead, think about what you would want (or have benefited from) in a manager. A few hints:

  • Be unflappable. No matter what you’re hit with, take a moment to reflect and decide on a course of action. If your employees see you start to lose it, their anxiety goes through the roof, and that’s not a recipe for a carefully-considered decision.
  • Be available. Newbies are in a huge learning curve, and they need your hands-on presence often. Teaching them well in the beginning will give you support in managing your workload and make you look like a champ to your managers.
  • Be forgiving. Everyone makes mistakes (right?), so expect them from your new charges. Use well-intentioned mistakes as learning opportunities, rather than reasons to assert your power.
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