Advice for first-time leaders and supervisors

I teach humanistic leadership and management skills at Humanist Learning Systems. In fact – I have a brand new online course – Humanistic Leadership Principles, which teaches the 7 deadly sins of staff management and leadership principles to help people understand the role of a leader/manager.

You're in a leadership role at work for the first time. What should you know?

 2 Things Good Leaders Must Understand

1. You have 2 customers. Your bosses – and your staff. Yes – your staff are your customers. Your bosses are going to want you to file reports and let them know what work is being done.  Your staff – need you to support them.  A manager/leader is a support rule. The work is being done by workers. The leader’s job is to make sure workers have what they need to be able to do their job well. Do they need training? Supplies? Information? Information that is in another department? That’s the job of the manager. So – think of yourself as being below your staff – your job is to do the grunt work required to make sure – your team can function well. 

2. Bullying management is bad management. Bullying negatively impacts workflow and causes real harm to real people. Successful leaders – build up and support employees. They champion them. Help them feel valued and included. Kindness and compassion in everything you do – should be your guiding principle. That’s what makes a good leader a great leader. They inspire people to be the best they can be. Bosses – order people around. Be a leader – not a boss.

Are you a new leader?

Often folks are thrust into these positions without real training about how to supervise employees or take the lead on projects.

Understand – you were chosen because your managers have faith in you. Be diligent and conscientious and you will do fine. If you don’t know how best to do something- ask for help and advice.

Take online courses (like mine) and learn what you don’t know but need to know.  Everyone starts every job learning. Most people don’t become productive for several months.  You will feel pressure to perform but remember – you have a lot to learn – so part of your new job – as a manager/leader – is to learn how to lead. And there are plenty of resources to help you. You may also want to ask one of the senior managers/ leaders to mentor you.  Not only will that help you in your future career – but it will help you become the sort of leader you want to be.

Even if you're just supervising one intern, what are some things you should keep in mind? 

Treat everyone with dignity. Behave with dignity. When in doubt  - think -  with compassion and dignity. Eleanor Roosevelt once said – in her book You Learn by Living, to treat employees as if they are volunteers.  You don’t have the right to “boss” people around. Even if you are paying them. And especially if you are not. Treat people as if they matter and as if they have a choice. Treat them with gratitude for the work they are doing and with grace. Support them. Encourage them. Help them learn how to be awesome productive citizens of the world.

 Are there additional things to know as a young leader versus someone older or with more experience in the workforce?

“If you want to slide through life, try being polite.” – Christopher Shaw (my father).  Kindness will take you places that meanness can’t. Remember – to be kind. You will like the sort of person you are, and your employees will appreciate the effort you put into helping them be better.

And again - take my online course - you will be glad you did.

Try to love people - every day

One of my LinkedIn friends asked what I thought was a very profound question the other day. What are you doing that nobody else is doing?

This was a marketing question - he said "In order to set yourself apart, you have to be memorable and remarkable. What do you do on a daily basis that truly makes you stand out?" 

He then added the hashtags - #fulfillment #meaning #purpose #journeytocloudnine #happiness

I didn't hesitate to answer: I teach people how to make bullying and harassment stop using science and compassion. And I love this question.  The thing I try to do every day - is love. Myself, my family and my friends and the people I come in contact with.  I try to make people feel loved.  My grandma told me when I was young - that I was put on this earth to love people - and that is what I've tried to do ever since.

And then I realized - all this time I've been burying my lede.  I have been telling people what I can do for them - but not WHY I teach what I teach.

Everything I do and teach is grounded in love and is done out of love and is about promoting love.

  • Stopping bullying, it is about love. 
  • Humanistic management? It’s about love.  
  • Teaching people humanistic philosophy – it’s about love. 

Everything – is about love. It’s my core motivation for everything.

I feel like I’ve had an epiphany. So watch my website - I am literally going to go through all my marketing materials – and make the concept of love – front and center. 

3 skills you need to lead a cross functional team

 What top 3 skills do I believe are needed to effectively lead cross-functional teams?

1.    Listening
2.    Humility
3.    Focus

Let me explain. If you are in a cross functional team or leading a cross functional team, you are working with diverse functional experts.  This means – different people on the team have different levels of knowledge. The entire purpose of a cross functional team is to get them to use their individual expertise to create solutions to problems that take into account – the cross functional problems that arise in every solution ever created. It’s an attempt to head off – and fix before they are problems – likely problems.


To do this well – requires people to be willing to listen and to learn things they don’t know. You are bringing in experts. Listen to them.


The next skill is humility. Humility to know that – there are indeed things you don’t know that you should and humility to understand that whatever the main thing that you are concerned about it – it has to be weighed against the main things other experts are concerned about. Finding good solutions to problems, often involves compromises that in an ideal world – would not have to be made, but in the real world – are required to get things done. Humility – helps us make those compromises so that we can create the best solution possible and so that we don’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.


Finally – we need to be focused on effective ethical quality problem solving. The best way to get a diverse team to work well together, is to focus them on collaborative problem solving. Help them define what a good solution is – that they can all agree on – then help them collaborate to create the best solution they can. When disagreements occur – and they will occur- the role of the leader is to help refocus and reframe that disagreement into solving the problem at hand. Disagreements are natural – and healthy in effective problem solving – IF people listen and learn and have humility. Focusing on problem solving helps remind people to do the first two skills – listen and humility.

An example of each skill in practice.

It is probably easiest to provide examples of what happens when this doesn’t happen. Think politics. I live in Florida. We have water problems. And the problems are difficult. There is no one single cause to the problems and not one single solution to the problems.  We need cross functional teams with various expertise to figure out how best to protect our water ways. We need scientists, and engineers and politicians and business people – to all work together. What doesn’t happen – is that – the incentive to listen to opposing views with humility – is very low. So – it rarely happens. But if it did, a cross functional team of experts would be created and the leader – would focus them on collaborative problem solving.  The hardest part – is actually – making sure all the right experts get into the team. Often – we don’t like certain people – so they are excluded – and then – we don’t have access to all the information we need and our solution doesn’t work – or doesn’t have widespread support.

What does this look like when it’s done right?  Movies are a good example of this. To make a movie – you have to bring in – story tellers, artists, actors, stage management, costuming, props etc. If they don’t work together – the end product isn’t good. Movie making is probably one of the best examples of leading cross functional teams successfully.  People have to listen,  and have humility and put themselves in service of the vision and that happens – by focusing everyone on the vision.

I am a Humanistic leadership expert – I run Humanist Learning Systems and provide online and in person training on how to be a better leader.  My newest program is a 2 hour course on Principles of Humanistic Leadership. I also teach how to de-escalate conflicts using behavioral science.

What's the point of being a Humanist?

As opposed to a nihilist or an absurdist or a detachment-ist – buddhist?

It's about how hard it sometimes is to live up to our ideas and to work towards positive goals. For me - she really captures the experience of lived Humanism when she says, 

"So, no, this isn’t about optimism, per se. This is more about… recognizing when you are tired, and fed up, and cynical, and hurt, and wounded, and angry–all conditions in which it seems reasonable just to stop bothering–and then to make a concerted effort to keep bothering anyway."

Being a Humanist - is bothering anyway. Mucking along and doing the best you can to be good and to do good. Despite it all.

Does this approach make life easier?  Actually - yes I think it does.  I even created an online course to help people figure out how to keep bothering anyway.
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