After the Webinar: From Buddy to Boss – Going from Supervisor to Superhero. Q&A with Dr. Ed Pallas

Webinar presenter Dr. Ed Pallas answered a number of your questions after his presentation, From Buddy to Boss: Going from Supervisor to Superhero.  Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: How do you survive toxic leadership that is on the verge of retirement? Do you just grin and bear it? Of course, one of the many consequences that for that is causing burnout. 

Ed Pallas: So obviously, the easy answer is yes, is to wait it out. One of the best ways to deal with a toxic leader is to be an exemplary follower. And I do talk about this a little bit in one of my chapters, and how the idea is you figure out exactly what that boss needs, what they want, and then you over-deliver. You don’t do it in a disrespectful way. But you make it your mission to get your boss to look as awesome as possible. Because what’s going to happen is assuming they have more than one direct report, you’re going to be the superstar, then they’re going to focus all their toxicity on other people. Because you’re delivering, you’re not just delivering, you’re over-delivering. You’re making them look good. They’re going to leave you alone and they’re going to focus all their toxic nastiness on other people, and granted, that’s maybe not the best for you your peers. But that’s one way of answering that question.


Audience Question: What are the best ways to deal with a difficult worker who is engaging in constant insubordination? 

Ed Pallas: So, again, each scenario is a little different. But I would first suggest you ask yourself, what expectations have you set for him or her? What you’re considering as insubordination, might certainly be insubordination, but do they know that? In other words, have you clearly defined what the minimal acceptable behavior is? Because often, we think it’s crystal clear in our minds, and I’ve been guilty of this so many times. I think my message or my expectations are so clear. And they’re clear to me, but they’re not clear to one of my direct reports. And so, one of the things I always suggest to every leader is to start by looking in the mirror. Start by thinking, what can I do differently? Because here’s, and I truly believe this, you’re not going to change anybody else. And I know that sounds contrary to what’s the point of leadership? You can influence people, you’re not going to change them, they’re wired the way they’re wired. And I could go into personality and all these other things, but what you can do is change the way you are reacting, or hopefully, you’re not reacting, you’re responding to them because there’s a difference between a reaction and a response. When I react to somebody, it’s usually not very well. It’s not very well done, that’s when I screw up. So, I respond to people. So, clearly define what is minimally acceptable behavior. And once you’ve had that, that clear conversation, whenever they deviate from that, have another conversation. If you have to keep going, and eventually you do, this is where the hammer comes in. You don’t want to go to the hammer right away. So, you have a couple of conversations. But eventually, you might have to write them up. And eventually, it might become an insubordination charge. But in my experience, most leaders, especially most new leaders, reach for that hammer real quick that somebody’s insubordinate, and they just want to bring out the biggest sledgehammer they can. My suggestion is, you start with some other motivational strategies, you start with some communication strategies, have that conversation, and then, and I know it’s that, it’s a trite phrase now. But that whole progressive discipline thing, it actually does work if it’s used properly.


Audience Question: Are there effective ways you can receive honest feedback about your leadership from subordinates, without it turning into a gripe session? 

Ed Pallas: Great, great question. So, two things. One, I applaud you, whoever asked that question for even considering that, because the fact that you want feedback from your direct reports tells me that you’re a good leader. The fact that you’re thinking about you want that feedback from somebody because there are many out there who don’t want to hear the feedback. So how do you not have it be a gripe session? I think you’re very clear. When you ask for feedback, and maybe you say, “Hey, look, I need feedback on me,” and by the way, one of the best times to do this is after you give them their performance evaluation is to ask them, “Okay, look, there’s another year, what can I do better? What do I need to stop doing? What do I need to start doing? And what should I continue doing?” Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to agree with everything they say, but here’s where, here’s where you listen with both ears. In other words, when you’re asking for feedback, what most people want is they want affirmation. They don’t want feedback. They want the person to affirm that they’re doing a good job. The problem is when they don’t affirm we’re doing a good job when we start to hear things we don’t want to hear. We tend to get defensive our shields go up. And then it turns into a gripe session. So, if you’re going to ask for feedback, the key thing is to shush, and shut up. Listen, let them vent, and do not argue with them, even if they’re 100% wrong, just listen to them. I think the only appropriate response is when you ask for feedback. If you ask for it, that’s to say thank you. That’s it. Don’t argue with them, and don’t make excuses. Even if 99% of the stuff you’re writing down, you think is complete hogwash. Because as soon as you start arguing as soon as you become defensive, you’re going to shut them down. They’re never going to give you feedback again.



Audience Question: Do you have advice on meeting with your new team? Should we meet one-on-one immediately, or meet as a group? 

Ed Pallas:  Oh, great question. So, again, I don’t think there’s one right way to do things. Here’s maybe a framework for you, is have that initial meeting as a group, go over some group expectations, and maybe throw out the question, “What expectations do you have for me?” But then also, scheduled one-on-one meetings to get individual feedback. If you’re a new leader, there’s not going to be that psychological safety yet, but you’re at least setting the table to have that. In a group, your extroverts are going to speak out a lot more than your introverts. Your dysfunctional followers are going to speak up more probably than your functional followers. But that sets the table for then the individual conversations where you’re going to get some more feedback. And, again, probably the biggest thing for new leaders is, if you’re asking them questions, just be quiet and listen to them. And then, maybe you come back a third time as a group or as an individual and say, “Okay, after all these conversations, here are my expectations for you as my team.”


Audience Question: As a new supervisor, I’m managing my old caseload, and because we’re short staffed recently, I’m managing two additional caseloads. So, what tips do you have on managing stress, keeping a positive composure, and creating more time to be helpful to your staff in need? 

Ed Pallas:  Wow, Rachel, great, great question, and I’m sorry, you’re in that position. So, this kind of goes back to one of the things I covered earlier in the webinar. I think you need to meet with your boss and ask him or her, “Hey, boss, you’ve given me this whole caseload. I’m also supervising people. I’m struggling to get everything done. I’m doing 2 or 3 different jobs, of all this stuff that you have for me, Mr. or Mrs. Boss, what are your priorities? How do you want me to prioritize? Would you, whether rather me prioritize these projects we have as a team? Do you want me to prioritize my own caseload? Help me out. Because eventually, I will get to everything.” But if you know where your boss sees that, then you can be more successful and, quite frankly, this is a great opportunity. Maybe your boss doesn’t understand how much of a workload they’ve given to you. By having this conversation and framing it as, “How can I help you, boss? I need to know how to prioritize”, maybe that will help open their eyes to, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve given Rachele a whole bunch of stuff to do, and not enough resources.” So maybe they say, “You know what, out of these seven things, it’s only the first three that are important,” and boom, your stress level is going to drop. Or maybe they say, “Hey, I know, we don’t have any resources. So, let me give you different suspense dates for these other things. They really can be pushed back to the next fiscal year.” Just some thoughts, but Rachel my go-to on that, is, to have that conversation with your boss.


Audience Question: What advice would you give someone with other supervisors that don’t like, or respect them? 

Ed Pallas: So, I guess I would try to figure out why. Because if it’s more than one is there a reason for that? If it’s kind of one of those things where if you hear from one person, maybe you’re not doing such a great job, it might or might not be that person. But if you hear from 3 or 4 people that, you’re almost definitely not doing a very good job. So maybe, again, going back to looking in the mirror, maybe there’s some meat to that complaint. So maybe meet with the 1, 2, 3, 4, or however many peers that you think you might have a little bit of trust with. Have a conversation with him and say, “Hey! My perception is like, you all don’t respect me. And I need to know why because if I’m doing something wrong, help me fix it.” Ask them for their advice. That’s a very powerful way to relate to somebody, is when you ask somebody for their advice, they feel empowered. You’re putting him in them in that power position. And, quite frankly, most people want to help, especially since almost everybody is part of the thin blue line, so you’re in the helping profession. So, think about it. If one of your peers came to you and said, “Hey, I’m, I’m struggling with something, can you help me?” I bet you 99% of people on this webinar will say “Yes, of course, I will. So, that’s where I’d start there.”


Audience Question: How do you challenge underperformance? 

Ed Pallas:  So, again, this just goes back to being a little bit repetitive, is to set that minimum baseline. Because, quite frankly, I find that when it’s a performance issue, quite frankly, it’s the minimum level has not been established, and they don’t know what that is. And that’s the big thing, is to communicate that. The other thing is, sometimes when it’s a performance issue, what you want to find out is if it is an ability problem or is it a motivational problem? Because if it’s an ability problem, then that’s an easier fix. You need to teach them. You need to mentor them. You need to get them into a training class. On the other hand, if it’s a motivational problem, then it’s a mental impediment. And my theory on motivation is everybody’s motivated. They’re just not always motivated to do what you want them to do. And again, not to sound like a broken record, but I would, I would look into my book because I do address this, a little bit of motivation in one of the chapters on there is how do you harness their motivation and get them to focus on the needs of the organization. And there are some strategies in there but have that conversation with them and figure out where the impediment is. The first thing is, is it a performance issue? Or in other words, a training issue or is it a motivation issue, that’s the first step.



Click Here to Watch a Recording of From Buddy to Boss: Going from Supervisor to Superhero. 


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