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Supervision seen as the management of performance rather than people: it will make a difference.

Book Review: The Supervision Solution: Manage Performance, Not People by John Roulet

If you’re a manager and are looking for a formula to apply to your team so as to improve their performance, a word to the wise: this is not the book for you.

If you’re a manager and are looking for a great, easy, and fast way to increase your team’s performance and thus hopefully decrease your workload – why are you a manager again? – in any case, if that’s so, the same advice applies: this book is not for you.

Ever heard of the expression: “give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for life”? Well this expression could be remodelled thus, summing up this book: “Give a manager a formula, help him manage for a while, help a manager understand management, help him manage for life”.

Hey, I’m a writer, not a poet.

The author of The Supervision Solution: Manage Performance, Not People, John Roulet, tells us early on that the leader who most inspired him is Gandhi. The implications are huge: you, as a manager, are expected to be humble, to work hard, to stay true to your principles and to expect nothing in return. See what I mean about this book not being for the faint of heart?

The fact that the author’s manager of choice is Gandhi bodes quite well. However, I have to admit that I wasn’t ready to believe John Roulet did consider Gandhi as ‘the real deal’ unless, having finished the book, I found that all of it reflected his philosophy.

Then I realised that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about Gandhi. Oh well. I tried.

In all seriousness, this is a great book for managers and leaders of all sorts to read. For it doesn’t go into complicated diatribes about the philosophy of leadership, nor does it give boring, one-dimensional formulas that are said to work; rather, it accompanies managers to understand how they can become leaders, and bring out the inherent qualities in the individuals forming the teams they manage.

The premise is simple: all people inherently possess the potential to contribute positively to any organisation or team that they belong to. A manager, who is also a leader of sorts, helps bring about the conditions making it possible for the team’s potential – which is higher than the sum of each individual’s potential – to be as high as it can possibly be. It’s about removing obstacles so that people can become who they potentially can be. This is why humility is so important, for a true manager realises that he is a facilitator rather than a creator of greatness.

If used correctly, The Supervision Solution can give any manager the tools required to create winning conditions within the team. As I mentioned earlier, there is no easy formula to apply, and this book certainly isn’t going to help you apply a Band-Aid, if you are looking for one to quickly stop the bleeding that might be happening within your own team. John Roulet’s management style will make you work hard on the short term, but bring forth success in the long term.

There are five sections to the book: a definition of what leadership is (which is important, for, as John Roulet explains it, the predominant definition of leadership in today’s management discourse doesn’t reflect what leadership really is, but rather what it has become); the system in which leadership can function at its best; how to apply leadership; the skills, tools, and methods of supervision; and the road ahead. Each chapter is filled with concrete anecdotes and ends with a concise couple of paragraphs about what needs to be remembered. The writing is concise; the author clearly knows what he is talking about and doesn’t feel the need to fill up the pages with useless chatter, which is very refreshing.

Another interesting note: The Supervision Solution has been printed on thick paper, as if confident enough to be kept for a long time on one’s shelf and not just to make it full, but rather to be consulted. Cute cartoons break the text every couple of pages. The only thing I would have wished for are thicker margins to allow for Post-its and/or handwritten notes. But that’s OK, because I’m probably going to reread this book many times in the upcoming months, as you should. Because as those of you who have been reading my various blog posts know, I’m all about grassroots activities and for them to be successful, it takes a lot of leadership and management skills.

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