One of the most influential compliments of my career came from my very first supervisor. She said, “Michael, you are, by far, the most challenging employee I have ever worked with.” She had twenty-ish years on the job, and it’s me? WOW! What an achievement.
Now to give you some context, this particular supervisor was an authoritarian, but she never convinced me to buy into her authority. How is that supposed to work? And up until her departure, we never saw eye to eye. By no means was she a bad person; just the opposite. As a supervisor, though, she only exercised positional authority and never understood influencing people to obtain compliance.
We have probably all encountered similar phrases from a supervisor: “Because I said so,” and conceivably the worst, “Because I gave you an order.” How did that work out for you, the receiver? Did you feel like you were a part of a team with common goals? And how did that work out for that supervisor in the long run? There are a plethora of reasons supervisors fall back on expressions such as “Because I said so,” but it all boils down to the one being supervised. I need to understand the expectation and communicate it with my team in a manner that will allow them to buy into whatever I am selling.
As a soccer official, we use a three-step process to gain compliance: Ask, tell, remove, a process coaches and officials follow relative to conduct in the technical area1 Simply put, first you ask the person to comply. If they do not, you tell them to comply and state the outcome. Finally, if they still aren’t cooperating, you remove them from the match. This is an excellent technique that I have been forced to use many times, but I am not sure if it would work well in the dispatch center without some modification. The goal is to influence your team members for long term compliance.
Influencing your team to gain compliance is not going to happen overnight. In fact, this has taken me years to develop and integrate this into my style of management. Here are a few steps to help you on your way:
- Model. You absolutely have to model the behavior you want from your team. Your team is observing you at all times, whether you know it or not. They’re taking their cues from you. If you want to see a particular behavior from your team, you have to show them first.
- Example: How can you expect your team members to arrive on time if you are unable to get your butt in the office yourself? I am not talking about emergencies and things that come up. But not getting out of bed to come to work is NOT an emergency. If these situations are happening more days than not, you might need to look at your priorities because your team already is. Show up for your team, and they will show up for you.
- Set clear expectations. Do you know what is expected of you? And do your team members understand what is expected of them? Expectations must be clearly stated. You cannot hold someone to an expectation you have not communicated. I find when issues arise, it is because team members have overlooked their expectations or expectations need to be revised. In December of every year, my supervisory team and I assembled to review expectations for the next year. These expectations are then discussed with the team members during their annual evaluation, and they receive a copy. Everyone on my team knows exactly what is expected of them at all times.
- Relationships. Building and maintaining relationships is the most important part of this process. They are the foundation of any team. Take the time to get to know your team members genuinely; don’t be fake. If you have a good relationship with your team and have earned their respect, chances are pretty slim you will need to move from ask to tell or remove. Engage your employees and show you care. You will be surprised how little effort this takes and the reward it brings.
- Example: I have an employee that sends me pictures of his cats. I’m not too fond of cats, and he knows this, but every once in a while, I ask how his cats are and his face lights up. We both have a chuckle, and then it’s back to business. What is the cost of treating someone with basic human decency? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
So when is barking out an order acceptable? I think we can all agree that there is a time and place for everything. Obviously, in extreme cases, orders will need to be given. Still, if you have taken the time to build relationships with your team, model the behavior, set clear expectations, and provide meaningful training, everyone will already know what to do or will be looking to you for guidance. There is never a reason to bark, yell, or maim people.
Example: I have a pet peeve about people putting their feet on the top of the desk. I could easily walk over to them and have a very frank conversation with them. However, instead of making a fuss, I bring them a footstool. The issue is solved with a smile and a thank you; I didn’t have to say a word. It’s all about the experience.
One suggestion for new supervisors and all leaders is to find someone in your workplace or community that exemplifies the best behaviors and model that behavior. This is a person who makes you want to be the best version of yourself. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people that don’t always agree with you. DO NOT PUSH THESE PEOPLE AWAY! It is normal to not agree with everyone, but you must be able to have a conversation and let other points of view be heard. Who knows? Maybe there is a reason to change your opinion. I leave you with a thought from John C. Maxwell, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” You are not alone.
Ask, tell, remove. Look at an example at https://www.sunnyvalesoccer.org/resources/docs/cysa_ask_tell_remove.pdf
Michael Speigle is employed as an Emergency Operations Manager with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, Florida (USA). He has worked as a dispatcher, training officer, incident dispatch team leader and supervisor since 2008. He is certified by the State of Florida Department of Health as a 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator and by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as an instructor.