The Role of Problem Solver as a Supervisor

When you are faced with a problem at work and need assistance, do you turn to your supervisor? Or, if you are a supervisor, do your employees see you as a problem solver?If so, how do you interact with your employees as a problem solver?

Traditionally, when an employee experiences a problem the employee has turned to his/her supervisor to "fix" the problem. From the employee's perspective, she/he expects the supervisor to have the knowledge and experience to be able to identify the "correct solution". From the supervisor's perspective, knowing that the employee is expecting this role as the "fix-it" person, the supervisor reacts in one of two ways. The first response, being one based on a control orientation, is to command the solution. The second response, being one based on uncertainty and/or insecurity, is to abdicate the responsibility and turn it back to the employee to resolve. After all, the employee needs this opportunity to learn and grow.

I want to suggest a different or third option. This option is based on the role of the supervisor as an educator, a coach, and a facilitator of learning opportunities. In this role the supervisor's response would be to use the problem as an opportunity to nurture or coach the employee and arrive at a solution through a mutual learning process. The supervisor may not have the knowledge or experience needed for the specific situation, but together through a structured conversation, the supervisor and the employee can create the solution. And, in the process, both the employee and the supervisor are co-learners.

To approach supervising from this perspective requires a different world view of power and how to utilize that power for human growth and development. This approach also requires new and different skills for the supervisor; the skills of facilitation and coaching. No longer does the employee view the supervisor as "the boss" with all the answers. No longer does the supervisor suffer the pressure to "fix-it" for the employee. Instead the role of supervisor as a problem solver is now seen as a co-learner; a facilitator of learning opportunities. This is a very different role than the traditional command and control role of supervision.

To learn more about this different role of problem solver as a supervisor review the works of Dr. Roger Schwarz in The Skilled Facilitator and Dale Schwarz and Anne Davidson in Facilitative Coaching: A Toolkit for Expanding Your Repertoire and Achieving Lasting Results.