Don’t Trip Over What’s Behind You: 5 Recommendations for Dealing With the Past | SOS Podcast

Don’t Trip Over What’s Behind You: 5 Recommendations for Dealing With the Past | SOS Podcast

Transitioning from an hourly or wage roll position to supervisor is challenging.  It’s even more difficult for those managing employees they previously worked with on a daily basis.  In this podcast episode, host Joe White provides recommendations for dealing with a problematic past.  A key to moving forward, involves acknowledging past mistakes with humility and transparency.  With this episode, he’ll explain how.




The SOS Podcast is a production of AEU LEAD, an organization redefining how mid and frontline managers are developed.

Joe White:
Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Joe White, and this is the Supervisor Skills Secrets of Success Podcast. Today's episode is the first of 12, scheduled for release in 2024. As part of our transition to season four, we'll be introducing several changes in an effort to grow from things we've learned over the past three years. In addition, we'll be making a few subtle adjustments to better serve our target audience.

A change you'll likely notice right away involves points of discussion. Whereas is in the past, I've focused exclusively on leadership topics of relevance to frontline supervisors, I plan to focus more this year on actual experiences, firsthand accounts, and leadership practices built around rules of thumb, common expressions, or timeless phrases. In practice, the goal is to bring forward episodes that result in reflection, realignment, and response. Doing so requires content that's relevant and suggestions that are practical.

To that end, today's recording is built around a phrase I recently saw on a shirt. The words really spoke to me and offered valuable insight into challenges many supervisors often have, and that's dealing with their past. The quote is, don't trip over what's behind you. There's lots to share, lots to cover, and even more to think about with today's topic. That said, let's dive right into it.

Several years ago, I ran a supervisor skills workshop for a manufacturing company in South Carolina. During one of the breaks, a young supervisor approached me and asked about how he could best deal with his past. He went on to explain that he had been promoted to the role of maintenance supervisor from within and now managed the group he was previously a part of as a mechanic. His concerns involved having to confront former coworkers for taking shortcuts and unnecessary risk he often took himself prior to his promotion. As he insightfully pointed out, speaking out against behaviors you routinely performed yourself is, by definition, hypocrisy.

Recognizing the importance of credibility in his role, he asked for suggestions he could act on to put the past in the past. In one form or another, his concerns, whether openly expressed or not, have been shared by numerous others I've worked with over the years, and for a good reason. Transitioning into the role of frontline supervisor from within is challenging, and many struggle in the process of doing so. Moving forward with many means effectively dealing with what's behind you.

And to that end, there are several suggestions I would like to share for consideration:

1. Tackle the Elephants

A universal truth about human relations is that conflict seldom resolves itself with time and distance alone. As a supervisor, deal with your past head-on. That means going through issues and not around them. While this may be uncomfortable, it's necessary. The only way to move forward is by acknowledging and accepting full responsibility for any past transgressions that may be holding you back.

2. Display Empathy

Providing performance feedback opposite defined expectations is a fundamental responsibility all supervisors share. When the feedback conveys needed corrective action for something you once did yourself, it can be awkward. In these instances, it's important to come from a place of empathy. Acknowledge that you've stood in the employee's shoes and can relate to how they got to where they are. That said, help them understand the importance of making any needed changes that may be required for growth or improvement to occur.


3. Offer a New Perspective

As a supervisor, your point of view regarding work practices has likely evolved with time. Share the insights that helped you move from where you were to where you are. Acknowledging the perspective of an employee is important, but helping them see areas of needed improvement from a broader or more expansive one is essential. Achieving this objective requires strong communication skills and is dependent upon dialogue and collaboration.


4. Clean the Slate

Cleaning the slate is about dealing with everything holding you back. It requires one-on-one discussions and engaging with those privy to the points of contention you know exist. It also requires responding to issues you may not even be aware of. Wherever these deliberate interactions go, you must follow the path all the way through. For some employees, it will require more, for others, less. Stay the course, respond purposefully, and keep the big picture in mind.


5. Pull Anchor

The past can and often does derail supervisors from moving forward. When you've engaged with employees to acknowledge mistakes, listen to concerns, and effectively responded to them with empathy and a renewed perspective, it's time to move on. This often results in strained relations with a few, but it's the only way to gain the respect of the majority. At the end of the day, it's not what you say that matters. Pulling anchor is about integrity. It's about demonstrating what you shared through actions and example. It's about moving forward and paving a trail for others to follow, which is, by its very definition, frontline leadership.

Transitioning from an hourly or wage role position to the ranks of supervisor is not easy. In many instances, it results in managing former coworkers or peers. As such, every past conversation, action taken, or mistake made becomes a potential point of contention. This is especially true for those having to address with direct reports things they know you did prior to your promotion. For this reason, we may need to deal with our past to move forward. Acknowledging and accepting responsibility for mistakes made and sharing a renewed perspective you've gained through your own are critical steps for desired change to occur. Most importantly, we must go through and not around whatever stands in the way of making needed transitions in role and responsibilities.

Thank you for joining us. It's my sincere hope you found benefit in our discussion today. We'll be back in a month and look forward to you joining us then. If you know of someone that could benefit from our topics of discussion, please forward a link with an endorsement for their consideration. Should you have any questions or need additional information regarding today's topic, just let us know. Our contact information is provided in the show notes accompanying this episode. For those that may not have reviewed or rated your experience with our show, we would greatly appreciate you doing so. That's it for now. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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