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Practical Leadership: Leave Out the Golden Rule When Supervising Others

By May 1, 2013April 25th, 2014Guest Post, Nonprofits

Guest Post by Lisa Negstad, Negstad Consulting, LLC

This week I’m pleased to have a post by Lisa Negstad giving good advice about working with your employees. Lisa was the featured guest at last month’s Ignited Online Fundraising Community member’s only webinar.

Have you ever made the fatal error of following the Golden Rule? No, that’s not a typo. I did call the Golden Rule an error. As a supervisor, following that Rule can get you in trouble. I have made this error more than once when I treated my employees how I wanted to be treated.
For example, I followed the Rule and publicly acknowledged an employee for great work. Later I discovered she was mortified by being called out in front of her peers and would have much preferred a heartfelt, personal thank-you note.


Or, there was the time I hired a seasoned, experienced employee expecting he would love a lot of autonomy. I threw lots of ideas at him at once and told him to just run with it. Later, I found out this caused him a lot of anxiety and he felt unsupported in his new role.

Good supervisors understand that each person who reports to them is unique. Taking time to learn each employee’s values, strengths, and motivations is key to helping him or her flourish and stay engaged. Engaged employees on average have 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times greater creativity.

Here are three practical ways to get to know each person who reports to you.

Get curious about your employees and what makes them tick. You can do this in a formal way, by sitting down with an employee and a list of questions. Make the conversation a two-way street and invite him or her to ask you questions about what makes you tick. I’ve known supervisors who did this though they knew their employees for years and were very surprised at the new things they learned.

Here are some of my favorite “get to know you” questions. Listen carefully to the answers, they will provide clues to the answerer’s strengths, passions, and values.

  • What was the best day you had at work in the last 3 months? Describe what you were working on.
  • What was the most meaningful recognition you ever received?
  • What draws you to the mission of this organization?
  • Complete this sentence for me “When things start to get stressful, I need. . .”
  • What’s one thing you learned from your family that you will value for the rest of your life?
  • What’s one thing you are passionate about outside of work?
  • Who is an influential person in your life – what gift did they give you?

You can also get curious about what makes your employee tick in an informal way. Whenever you interact with an employee, ask questions about their approach to a work challenge, figure out what led them to make a certain decision, or ask a follow-up question to find out their perspective on a topic.

Observe your employees and notice where they really shine. Watch for the parts of the job that give them a lot of energy or get them to “light up.” At the same, watch for the responsibilities that seem to drain people. Stay tuned to the work responsibilities where employees display confidence as well as the responsibilities that make them seem more tentative. Find opportunities to check out your observations with the employee.

Ask for feedback and ideas on a regular basis. Invite employees to share perspectives and be open to ideas other than your own. It’s important to avoid a defensive response when asking for feedback (even if you disagree with their perception). Encourage open and honest conversation. Give your employees permission to let you know if something isn’t working for them in their job. You may not be able to accommodate every request, but the more you know what they are thinking, the more you will know what makes them tick.

About Lisa Negstad: Lisa specializes in designing training that uses creative and engaging methods, leverages individual strengths, and produces sustainable learning. A graduate of Yale University’s MBA program and Luther College, Lisa held senior leadership and management positions in several (international and US based) nonprofit organizations before starting her company, Negstad Consulting, llc. Sign-up to receive Five Minute Newsletter, her monthly newsletter with supervising tips.


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