In Gratitude: The Simple Yet Powerful Acts of a Great Supervisor

Leanne Buehler, Ph.D., Principal Science and Innovation AdvisorEmployee Engagement, LeadershipLeave a Comment

It’s Thanksgiving season which of course is a time to give thanks for the blessings in both our personal and professional lives. It’s a time for reflection on the year ending and planning for the future. As part of this reflection, I’ve been thinking about the journey I’ve been on and my own personal growth. As I thought about the highs and lows of the past few years, I was struck by one thing that stood out to me as a high. A while back I received an email from a woman I had supervised almost 4 years ago that I no longer worked with. It was a quick note that thanked me for investing in her development and professional growth. It was unexpected, thoughtful and it meant the world to me. In thinking about why, I noted that I believe our most important job as leaders is to inspire others to reach their full potential. I had not realized my impact on this individual – reading her thank you was incredibly rewarding and has stuck with me.

I’ve had many excellent bosses over the years that have contributed to my development. They’ve all shared some similar qualities that made them people I wanted to follow and have helped me grow. In gratitude to them, and because it helps remind me of the kind of leader I want to be, I wanted to share some of the behaviors that I found most impactful.

They spent time with me: When I was an intern while completing grad school, my boss was incredibly generous in giving me her time. She gave me exposure to everything – conference calls with colleagues and vendors. She let me tag along in her conversations with the COO. She gave me the opportunity to train hundreds of leaders and was confident I would do a good job. Despite my lack of experience, she asked for my opinion and gave me ownership in key aspects of high profile projects. She helped build my confidence, my experience, and my employability.

They helped me build self-awareness: One of my supervisors was masterful at building strong relationships. She was one of those talented, charismatic people that that can give tough feedback in a way that you don’t even realize it’s happening. I would think back on a discussion we had had and realize, “wow, I just got some significant feedback, but it was done so gracefully that it was insightful, not painful.”

As an example – At one time I was struggling with a few members of a department I relied on to deliver solutions to my clients. In talking through the conflict, she had me write down what was motivating to each person on that team and how I might work with them to appeal to their needs while also taking care of my clients. It was a lesson in emotional intelligence for me, but at the time it just felt like problem solving. She taught me a strategy that I still use today and made me more aware of how I need to adjust to the style and motivation of others.

They went to bat for me: Organizations are full of politics and we all must pick our battles. Being a leader can be challenging as we try to address the demands and preferences of those above, beside, and who report to us. However, one thing that I have appreciated tremendously is knowing that my supervisor would stand up for me, even when it wasn’t easy.

In one situation, I felt I had been unfairly treated by a leader who was well above my pay grade. In explaining the situation to my supervisor, he listened and assumed best intentions on my part. Even though it likely put him in a vulnerable situation, he confronted a very sensitive topic with that leader and worked it through to resolution. He could have easily turned the other way and avoided the headache, but instead he responded in a way in which I felt supported. I always knew that he was my advocate, and in return I felt great trust and loyalty.

They cared about me: Talking about “feelings” and “caring” at work often comes across as soft, weak or, just plain fru fru (that’s a word, I looked it up in urban dictionary). However, the bosses who took the time to do personalized “little” things (and sometimes not so little) made me feel appreciated more than any paycheck could. Here are a few examples of things my supervisors have done that were particularly meaningful to me.
Brought me a chai tea every Friday because that was my favorite drink.

Gave me the opportunity to facilitate a meeting with a key client so that I could gain exposure and experience.
Lent me an ear to talk through a major career change my husband was considering that would have a significant impact on our family.

Brought me a yoga mat so I could work out at the office as I tried to manage a stressful time between work and family life.

Brought swag home from a conference so that I could share it with my kids.
Carved out time which would allow me to be on a non-profit committee so that I could network with other women leaders.

Gave me an inside view of contract negotiations, even when it was not directly relevant to my role.
Introduced me to an entire network of community leaders that have served as mentors, advisors, and friends.

In most of these cases, these things did not make the lives of my supervisors easier in the short-run. But they made me feel cared for, engaged, and they affected me on a personal and professional level.

As we take time out to reflect on the things we are thankful for, let’s not only appreciate our teams and the great contributions they make, but also recognize the people that helped us get where we are today. If nothing else, looking to the leaders who have inspired us can only make us better leaders ourselves. So take a moment to send a quick note to someone who has made a great contribution to your career and Happy Thanksgiving!