Anybody who has been in the military knows it's true. The General might get the credit for an incredible strategy or an inspirational style, but if the battles are going to be won Ð one after another so that ultimately the war is going to go your way Ð you'd better have good sergeants there with the troops. It's true in business, too.
Leadership is a lot like thunder. There's lots of noise and commotion that gets your attention. But, as the song says, "Thunder's just a noise, boys; lightning does the work." Supervision is lightning.
That's actually not so strange when you think about it. The work that makes an organization go is the work that happens on the front line. In a business, that's the places where your organization touches the customer. The people that do that job make or break your company with thousands of decisions every day.
And what has the greatest impact on those decisions? It's supervision. It's the person right there that determines what needs to be done, supplies wisdom and experience, makes sure resources are used in the best possible way, and makes sure that training gets done if it's needed. Skip that part, and you'll leave everybody on the frontline to figure things out on their own, and that's a recipe for disaster.
A couple of years ago, the Gallup people really underlined this for us. They did a survey of what makes workers productive, and they found that no single factor predicts the productivity of an employee more than his or her direct relationship with the supervisor. In other words, productivity has more to do with supervision than it does to do with training, or salary and benefits, or just about anything else.
But there's more to this story. Despite what you may have heard, management studies don't support the statement, "Happy employees are productive employees." Instead, the preponderance of the evidence supports another very important statement. "Productive employees are happy employees."
That's important to you, because happy employees are the ones who are likely to stay. They are more likely to be happy if they are productive, and they are more likely to be productive if they have a good relationship with their supervisor.
Okay, so if you are the monkey who is way up at the top of the tree, what can you do about this? Start paying attention to your supervisors and their selection, and training, and transition, and you can have a huge impact on the long-term competitive advantage and profitability of your organization. It's that simple.