5 Internal Thoughts of Program Leaders

Over the past month or so I have been tapping some managers, team leaders, supervisors and directors on the shoulder to get their input on a range of matters as I revamp some of our leadership training. Every one is in some type of middle-management position. These are all people I respect on many levels and where trust has been built over time. Because of that trust, one of the things I have been interested in knowing from a handful of them are the internal thoughts that they can never share with their staff, but which goes through their minds more than perhaps they’d like to admit. This is by no means scientific, but the common threads of the responses even though they work in different cities and different types of services I found to be quite illuminating.

If you are a leader of people, perhaps you can see yourself in these. If you are a frontline staff person, know that it is quite possible your boss is thinking these very things today. And if you are the boss of the boss, you may want to think about how you can provide support to these five common internal thoughts.

1. “I miss the rush of the frontline.”

You can work your butt off to move up the ladder and end up in a supervisory position. You may do so because you think you have perspective and expertise that will be of value to an entire staff team, and perhaps do even better things for all the people that are served by your organization. And while you were exhausted in all those years in the trenches, there is something that is missing in the day to day routine of supervising people instead of interacting with end users of your organization’s services. Some days the boss wishes they weren’t the boss anymore and were right back up to their eyeballs in interacting with service users.

2. “I wish people knew how to solve their own problems.”

Pretty much everyone in a supervisory position knows that part of their job is going to be managing difficult situations or navigating new terrain, along with settling conflicts. But managing people is not always the reason people were attracted to supervision and can really wear a supervisor down. Every one I connected with wished their staff team spent more time trying to solve their own problems and less time dumping the problem on the supervisor’s lap to be solved for them.

3. “I don’t have this all figured out…at least not all the time.”

Supervisors are rarely in a position where they can be candid with their staff and say “I don’t know” and not end up being eaten alive, losing the trust and confidence of the team, or even losing their job. While staff members may second guess decisions made or even think the boss has her/his head stuck up their butt on some matters, they at least think the boss has a plan. What has become clear in these conversations is that a lot of the time supervisors don’t have the answers to problems or situations that their staff thinks that they have. And sometimes that is very scary.

4. “I am lonely.”

You have no doubt heard that things are lonely at the top. Turns out they are lonely in the middle to. You can be friendly with your staff, but they aren’t your friends. And you can’t always turn to your own boss out of fear of them thinking you don’t know how to be competent at your job. And so it would seem a lot of supervisors acknowledge their own loneliness without having an outlet for it. Plus, as a supervisor you know some of the candid details of the inner-workings of the organization like financial and legal stuff that you can’t share with any of the people that report to you and which you spend the bulk of your day with, so there is no capacity to process it with other people. And on top of all that, it is lonely to know that people that report to you are likely bad-mouthing or second-guessing you…at least some of the time.

5. “I don’t make as much money as you think I do.”

Supervisors that I spoke with are struggling to pay their bills and get by each month not unlike their own staff. They are not making obscene gobs of cash more than the people that report to them. But they point out that when there is any sort of staff event or a chat over a coffee or an accepted lunch invitation by staff there always seems to be an expectation that they will pick up the tab.

Iain De Jong

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