Making It Look Easy

“Art makes it look so easy. It’s like he comes to work and puts on his slippers.”

That’s how one colleague described Art Jones, the best supervisor I’ve ever seen up close.

There never seemed to be problems with his team. They were always productive. When malcontents or slackers were transferred to Art’s team, one of two things happened. Most were transformed into paragons of engagement. Some were either fired or resigned. Art never looked like he broke a sweat.

The great ones in any field make it look easy. They work hard, but they work differently from most bosses. The secret is lots of small actions that remove the need for a few heroic ones. The great supervisors spend time and effort on preventing problems and prompt action.

Constant Scanning

Keep your head up and in swivel mode. Watch for changes and trends. Pay attention to leading indicators. Some of those leading indicators will be about business. Others will be telltale signs of changes in your teammates. Remember the rule that I got from Al, whom everyone thought was an oracle. “Every time something big is going to happen, there are little things that happen first.” Be alert for those little things.

Constant Contact

Great team leaders touch base a lot. Whether physically or virtually, they go to where people work. When they get there, they pay attention. They listen to what’s said and notice what’s not said. When you’re on-site, it’s a good time to offer small course corrections that help a teammate improve. It’s a great opportunity to praise.

Constant Communication

James Mattis said, “If you can’t talk freely with the most junior members of your organization, then you’ve lost touch.”

You’re probably not leading thousands of people. It will be easy for you to stay in touch when you touch base a lot. That’s when you have conversations.

Conversations are how we build human relationships. Conversations between adults are not lectures. All the adults talk and listen. Some conversations you have will be strictly about work. Some will be strictly about non-work things. Most will be a mix of the two.

Relationships are where trust happens. When you have trust, people will tell you things. They’ll tell you about things they notice and what they’re thinking. They’ll alert you to problems and opportunities. They’ll share ideas for how to do better. If they don’t think they can trust you, they won’t risk it.

Constant communication is also an opportunity for you to share your basic message. Never miss an opportunity to tell people where you’re all going and how you’re going to get there.

Quick Action

Great leaders know that most problems aren’t self-healing. Problems don’t get better with age. In fact, problems are a lot like dinosaurs. They’re easy to handle when they’re small. If they get big, though, they can eat you for lunch.

Leaders make it look easy by spotting problems early and dealing with them while they’re small. Leaders move toward problems.


Lots of small actions and adjustments remove the need for heroic measures.

Watch for the little things that happen before the big things.

Touch base a lot.

Have conversations.

Catch problems when they’re small and deal with them quickly.

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