Needed: Supervisors with super vision

Posted by on Jan 2, 2013

The word supervisor is used so often, we seldom think about it. But we should — because that seemingly innocent word can have two very different meanings.

With origins in Medieval Latin, supervisor is a combination of super (Latin for above, beyond) and videre (to see). So in its most literal sense, a supervisor is someone who oversees other people.

The dictionary defines it this way: a person who supervises workers or the work done by others; superintendent. Supervise: to oversee (a process, work, workers, etc.) during execution or performance; superintend; have the oversight and direction of.

This is indeed the case in many workplaces. The supervisor is someone who oversees, making sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. He or she serves as an ongoing inspector of sorts, correcting people as necessary. Taken to an extreme, the supervisor is an enforcer.

Now, let’s look at the same word from a much different angle.

The most effective supervisors are the ones with super vision.

  •  They can see the big picture, and they help others do the same.
  • They can see how different roles and tasks fit together to create a system.
  • They can see into the future, at least enough to foresee some of the knowledge, skills, and tools that will be needed down the road.
  • They can see themselves with greater honesty, understanding their unique styles, strengths, and improvement opportunities.
  • They can see the nuance in different situations, which allows them to adapt and respond in constructive ways in a wide range of circumstances.

The “supervisor as overseer” approach takes less thinking because of its one-size-fits-all nature. It’s largely reactive. Because it places one person above others, it reinforces hierarchy and division.

The “super vision” approach requires much more thinking. It calls for extra time, patience, practice, flexibility, and self-change. It’s entirely proactive and inherently unifying.

Let’s send the message to workplaces everywhere: We need more supervisors with super vision — and fewer who cling to that outmoded role of overseer.