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A satirical tutorial on ineffective supervision practices.

Attitudes & Tactics of Ineffective Supervision

As a manager or supervisor it is important to maintain the proper attitude in and about your workplace. Your attitude will determine not only how your employees view you, but how your own superiors view you as well.

Let us note that although every manager is essentially a supervisor, a common supervisor and a true manager are often purported to exist at different levels. That said-- the term 'manager' tends to be a self-imposed title claimed by those in charge of the till. By differentiating themselves from first line supervisors with this eloquent term managers are able to obtain far more compensation than their common counterparts. Among the skills that follow, some will be more customary of a manager than a common supervisor but for the purpose of this text the titles should be regarded as interchangeable.

And with titles in mind, let us examine the supervisory role by first looking at the title itself. We can define a supervisor as a person who oversees and directs persons and/or resources. If we look more deeply at this wonderful word we should take note of its prefix, super. Most of us are familiar with this term. It means better than-- as in Superman or Superstar. This leaves no doubt what the attitude of a super-visor should be. A supervisor who does not accept his place above and beyond his employees does not truly live up to what those same employees need in the workplace.

As a supervisor you must manage many diverse situations and personnel. You may find yourself managing the time and efforts of people with many mystifying skills, from multi-disciplined laborers to tradesmen such as welders or electricians. Even though you may have never partaken in most or perhaps any of these tasks this does not mean that you aren't qualified to judge them. Remember that you are a super-visor. Your ability is 'better than' theirs.

As a supervisor you possess skills that are more valuable than the skills of a common employee. These skills manifest themselves in many ways. These manifestations are what set you apart from other wage earners. Here are many examples of supervisor skills and how they are used:

Using professional sounding clich:

  • 'Give them enough rope to hang themselves.'

  • 'Be professional.'

  • 'It is the nature of your job.'

  • 'You are lucky to have a job.'

  • And of course-- 'You know where the door is.'

These catchphrases (and many others) can be used over and over again in various situations and with little or no effort will make you seem like a clever and quick thinking leader.


Use big words, like 'Sesquipedalianism' so that your employees will know how much your intelligence exceeds theirs. While not as easy as a clich Sesquipedalianism is a big word that sounds very impressive and important, just the way you want your employees and superiors to think of you. Sesquipedalianism is the [unnecessary] use of big words that normal people probably won't understand. Big words are an indication that you are a smart supervisor.

Acting Like You Own The Place

Remember that even if the company does not belong to you, it does belong to you more than it does to the employees. Treat company resources as if they are your own. You, as a supervisor, are an important extension of the company. Fuel, travel expenses, meals-- these are all perks that you are entitled to.

Lunchtime meetings are a good example of this tactic. It is perfectly proper for a group of supervisors to eat lunch on the company nickel because doing so can prevent the interruption of important decision-making processes.

Some free-think employee may decide to complain about this tactic. To thwart them, consider infrequent and minimal offerings to the hoi-polloi. Lunch-and-learns and other paltry donations to lower employees will dissolve any support that the complainer might have summoned. There is often money available from benefit programs and vendors that is more suitable for assuaging employees than the actual company money that only supervisory staff is truly entitled to.

Respect For Employees

Your workplace is a caste system. Not all employees are worthy of the same respect. Make sure employees know their place. Remind them how lucky they are to have their jobs. Remind them that they are not entitled to the tools and resources that make their jobs easier-- that these tools and resources are generous support from their superior staff.

  • They could be digging that ditch with their hands.

  • The company was generous enough to provide tools [for them].

  • The company got by just fine without those tools twenty years ago.

  • And of course-- don't let them forget that no one is irreplaceable. (Perhaps the replacement won't complain so much.)

Dealing with the Heckler's Veto

Never cooperate with the heckler's veto, especially when the heckler is correct. An intelligent employee that thinks of good ideas is a threat and should be suppressed. Take great pride in winning grievances over petty issues and disregard the comprehensive effect that these permanent accounts of vindictiveness can have on the long-term good of the company. Defeating your employee is all that matters. Remember that an employee who calls attention to a problem must be the cause of the problem. Attack them immediately without considering any other factors. Suppressing complaints is far easier than solving problems.

Furthermore, when an employee uses due process to circumvent your authority, wait patiently for an opportunity to misuse that same authority to retaliate. If your employees unionize, remember that it is not because you failed to provide adequate leadership which in turn they sought out elsewhere; it is because they are lazy and greedy. Remember that as the supervisor your point of view is not the only one; however, it is the correct one.

Doing something even if it's wrong

Remember to deploy orders constantly even when not necessary. If you allow employees to function on their own, you will seem less important. Better to be inefficient than have the company suspect that you are unnecessary or worthy of lesser compensation.

Always re-explain things to employees that they already know. Your perspective as a supervisor is far more objective than that of a commonplace employee, and just because an employee performs a task daily does not mean that they understand it better than you.

Remember that your job is to supervise. A supervisor should never leave well enough alone. With this in mind, remember that there are only two circumstances that you must be mindful of: Systems that work and systems that do not. The simplest way to assert your authority can be separated into two strategies, respectively:

  • If it works change it--

You are the supervisor. You must change things to show that you are the boss.

  • If it doesn't work keep doing it--

If a system isn't working it is probably the fault of lazy or incompetent employees. Don't enable them by changing the system. You must demand instead that your employees improve their performance.

This latter point relates to making sure your ideas work by rejecting the Heckler's Veto.

Do not encourage employees to find better ideas than yours. If you do, your ideas (and you) may look bad. Instead, encourage employees to make your ideas work, or at least make them appear to work. Your own supervisor's perception of you is far more important than your true value to the company. Doing what's best for the company is all well and good, unless it puts your self-interest at risk.

Observing the Golden Rule of Management

Do not participate in disciplinary action directed at other supervisors (duh). Managers typically have reduced access to disciplinary appeal processes; therefore it is sometimes necessary to-- Circle the wagons. The professional courtesy of ignoring or (if necessary) rationalizing the failures of your supervisory peers will encourage them to do the same for you.

Managing Failure

Do not acknowledge chronic failure in the chain of command beneath you at any level. To do so acknowledges your own failure. This is especially true of subordinate supervisors. Allowing fault to fall upon a subordinate supervisor not only makes you look negligent or incompetent but also violates the Golden Rule of Management.

Remember, the illusion of a smooth running operation is far more important than exposing problems in order to correct them. Always conceal problems until they threaten your own interests.

Having Friends & Enemies

Allow subordinate employees to befriend you. When they attempt to do so, it can be indicative of a lack of skill or motivation which, absent real job skills, will leave them little choice but to undermine their peers. This may be some variation of 'Stockholm Syndrome' that occurs in hostage situations or just an employee lacking principles who would trade dignity for ease. Either way the employee will act as a rat if properly enticed. They will seek to backstab their fellows in lieu of an honest day's work. Reward your rats accordingly to encourage this behavior.

Moreover, always have a special pet employee. This will train other employees to pander to you when they see him rewarded.

Provide a tacit Letter of Marquee to your friends. Allow them to act illicitly against your enemies to earn your favor without fear of censure. This will work to buffer you from accountability as you indirectly achieve vengeance that is not supported by due process.

Remember that enemies and friends should be treated accordingly. Always trust the word of employees who consistently pander to you. Believe what you hear from them. Then leap to an unmovable conclusion-- no matter what truth is revealed later. Doing otherwise discourages your friends from betraying their fellows and/or the company on your behalf.

If an employee fails but he is a friend, give his work to someone else; however, if he is not a friend document his incompetence, negligence, or insubordination no matter how minor. If a good worker complains about doing someone else's work remind them that you expect more from someone of their caliber. This is a good opportunity to utilize a clich A good employee should appreciate when his good job is rewarded with more work. Remind him that job security is a very important intrinsic reward.

Evaluate employees based upon common ground you share with them and/or unprofessional likes and dislikes. Do you and an employee both enjoy fishing, skiing, and hiking? Do you both dislike the same co-worker? If so, this employee may be an excellent candidate for your pet or rat program. Treachery should be cultivated like any other employee skill.

You are entitled to your employee's loyalty, but they are not entitled to yours. They must earn it by befriending you and showing loyalty to you rather than their peers.


Remember to downplay your own mistakes while overdramatizing those of your employees. Your mistakes are different. If possible, blame other employees for your mistakes. If that doesn't work blame circumstances or the environment. There is no need to accept blame. You are the supervisor. It is your job to decide what is right and wrong in the workplace.

Don't delegate to specific employees-- delegate group commands to one non-supervisory person or speak vaguely to the group. Then expect your message to be clearly understood. Although your message may be confusing and interfere with productivity it will provide you with the ability to interpret your orders after the fact. You can clean up the mess later by selectively blaming enemies for shortcomings while protecting pets and rats.

When a project is taking too long, you should order your employees to skip the steps that you don't understand. You should also involve yourself in the work: That way you can set the work-pace and then abandon your workers when you get tired. You should still expect their pace to remain unchanged until you return.

Set your employees up to fail by interfering with tried and true methods. Then blame the ensuing failure on insubordination or negligence. There is never a reason that a project can't work in practice the way it does in theory.

Order the supplies and equipment for your crew so that the budget is constrained to your will and not the needs of the project. Place or change material orders without the knowledge of your employees. Remember that you are the supervisor (super means something) and you know better than they do what should be done.

Understaff your worksites. This will make the most of personnel, forcing them to rush and reduce break times. When you overload your employees and understaff your projects, you should then assign high priority levels to each task that isn't completed in a timely manner. Do this after the fact so that failures may be blamed on employee decisions which will affirm your superiority as their supervisor. Also, acknowledge to your employees that they are shorthanded, but play respond to any complaints from above by denying this shorthandedness and insisting that the inept employees will be dealt with appropriately.

Conversely, you can overstaff worksites as well. This will add an abundance of people which should then cause output to increase. Ignore complaints about not enough equipment or untrained personnel. These are excuses employees use to be lazy and inefficient.

Sometimes employees will complain that your orders are not feasible. Remind them that you are the supervisor, and it is not their job to find a strategy that works. Instead, it is their job to make your strategy work. Pay attention to which employees realize the wisdom of your ideas. These are the employees that should be considered for promotion and other rewards.

Downplay constructive criticism from your employees. Then, at a later time, present their ideas as if they were your own. These employees were under your charge after all, so the ideas belong to you anyway.

Employees often seek to add buffers into their time management to ensure that they are not overloaded, overworked, or injured. It is your job to minimize those buffers to keep the output flowing. Add tasks or remove personnel to accomplish this. There is no need to consult onsite employees. Their opinions will not reflect your unbiased perspective.

Remember that issues regarding safety are important to employees only, especially if you can avoid knowing about them. Don't allow employees to selfishly decide what is most important or else production (and how good you look) may suffer. Employee injuries do not happen on every job, but delays that come from preventing them will slow down every project. Better to run damage control post-disaster than to consistently lose productivity by observing dubiously necessary safety measures. Your own superiors will forget singular incidents involving injuries, but chronically lagging production will be remembered.

Also remember that employees will interpret information such as time and material needs differently than a supervisor might. You will need to work to minimize these flaws as well. An unfeasible deadline to an employee is not necessarily unfeasible for a supervisor. It is your job to push your employees harder than they want to be pushed to get the most out of them.

Staying Focused

As a supervisor with limited understanding of your employee's tasks, you are free to concentrate on less vital minutiae. When a challenging project exists, it is the responsibility of the supervisor to remind employees to focus on unimportant details as well. Otherwise, employees become fixated only on aspects that make the project successful and forget to focus on details that make their supervisor look good.

Handling Discipline

Never address discipline concerns as they occur. Ambush employees later by challenging events long-past. This way they will not recall the event accurately enough to defend themselves, even if their defense would have been viable. Know that it is perfectly acceptable to deceive an employee. They are not entitled to the truth. In fact, you as the supervisor have jurisdiction over what is or is not the truth. If even a fraction of a statement is true then it is not necessarily a lie.

And Finally, HR

Draft job titles and descriptions according to desired pay levels. Actual assignments need not correlate with either. This saves on payroll costs.

Do not praise employees for doing their job. They are fortunate that you allow them to have one. Discipline, however, should be exposed to an audience to maximize the negative response to employee failure.

Remind employees that pride in one's work is the most important reward for a job well done.

And always remind employees that before you were a supervisor you worked much harder than they do and got much more done. Be sure to exaggerate your own accomplishments from the days when you worked for a living --

If you ever did.


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