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Helping: the basis of managerial supervision.

The topics of supervision and helping behavior are evolving and converging. Effective managerial supervision is defined as providing expertise, support, reinforcement, direction and/or the necessary resources for subordinates to achieve their goals. This definition is also the definition of helping, which has been suggested to be a major factor in managerial supervision and in interactions within organizations. Managerial supervision then is composed of various types of helping.

In the book, Superleadership: Leading Others to Lead Themselves, it is argued that managers can help employees to be self-leaders by teaching and encouraging them to focus on thoughts and behaviors that they use to influence themselves. While some others may argue that not all employees want to be self-directing, the various needs, wants and thoughts that people have influence the type of behavior that is expected from the manager. The manager must determine the appropriate behavior based upon relevant factors in the setting.

Managerial supervision is essentially an interaction between a helper and receiver, which is influenced by the needs, wants, values, feelings, thoughts and overall perceptions of each party. In order to make this interaction effective, some understanding of each other is necessary, especially understanding of the receiver (subordinate) by the helper (supervisor). A useful general theory of helping behavior was developed by Brickman, Rabinowitz, Karuzo, Coates, Cohn and Kidder. Recently, the basis of this theory was strongly supported by confirmatory factor analysis.

Brickman, et al. present four models of helping and coping, arguing that when people help others or themselves (coping), the direction of behavior is influenced by fundamental beliefs about blame and control. Blame is defined as attributing responsibility for problems, and control as attributing responsibility for solutions. Their framework is based on two levels of responsibility for problems interacting with two levels of responsibility for solutions. The interactions of a person's beliefs about responsibility for problems and solutions results in his orientations toward helping behavior. Each orientation and associated behavior pattern is referred to as a model.

The self-generating model represents an orientation that attributes high individual responsibility for both problems and solutions. The helping interaction is expected to be in the form of exhortations and the reinforcement of desired behaviors that facilitate self-motivation is considered the proper form of helping. This model also suggests an implicit view of humans as being capable of exercising full control over their lives. Consistent with these assumptions of high responsibility for problems and solutions is that individuals must help themselves.

The direct guidance model describes an orientation that views the proper form of helping as providing discipline in the form of strict rules and guidelines (e.g., the "right way to do it"). People are seen as responsible for causing their own problems but not willing or able to generate solutions. It is suggested that this orientation includes an implicit view of human nature as negative, in that direct guidance from those in authority is necessary to ensure that a person recognizes the problem and takes the correct action to solve it.

A third model, the empowerment model, represents a positive view of human nature, which attributes responsibility for problems to the situation or environment. People are not held accountable for creating their problems, but they are held responsible for solving them. People need help to overcome obstacles to their success. The form of helping is providing the resources for individuals to help themselves. However, the ultimate responsibility for the successful solution to problems lies within the individual.

The final model, the expertise model, represents a belief that people are not responsible for either problems or solutions. The implicit view of human nature is one of weakness and passivity with individuals merely responding to forces beyond their control. The proper behavior would be that of seeking or offering expert help. This would be seen as necessary because individuals are unable to affect their own outcomes and must rely on the advice of those who are trained to recognize problems and prescribe solutions. The only action expected of the individual is to accept the advice of others.

The assumptions of the direct guidance model may facilitate the time a supervisor spends in decision making or goal setting. However, it impedes solicitation of opinions and ideas from employees and may result in an excessively authoritarian management style and lack of commitment on the part of the employee. The assumptions of the expertise model may make the acceptance of instructions by the employee easier, but it may also foster apathy and failure to take responsibility when the situation or task demands it. The strength of the empowerment model lies in focusing on how to resolve the problem at hand and get on with accomplishing the task. It allows a supervisor to build on the strengths of an employee rather than focusing time and energy on assigning blame. Its deficiency lies in the frustration and pressure potentially caused when employees assume they must constantly solve problems they believe they did not create.

Additionally, failure to locate the source of a problem may contribute to the creation of other problems. The assumptions of the self-generating model compel people to assume responsibility and take action rather than complain or wait for someone else to act. While this belief can foster an environment of productivity and challenge, there is also a danger that even when people are working very hard, any failure on their part may be attributed to lack of effort. Adherents of the self-generating model can come to believe in their own omnipotence. Success in organizations is rarely a matter of strictly one's own effort but a combination of effort along with the power, resources and cooperation of others. Overall then, many behaviors that are intended to help could be either functional are dysfunctional for the individual and/or organization.

There seems to be a widely held belief that a problem and the solution originate from the same source. Because the two are often erroneously assumed to result from the same source, the expectation may be held that when a problem arises, the employee should and will take responsibility for solving it. This orientation is reflected in the self-generating model. Too often though, the solution is not to be found in the same source as the problem. The individual upon whom this assumption is thrust may not share the expectation that he should accept the responsibility. For example, the subordinate may see the work situation as being one that requires the manager to provide solutions for problems because the employee lacks either power or expertise. This is the likely case when the subordinate's general orientation to the world reflects feelings of lack of control over his own situation. In this case, knowledge of an employee's orientation can be useful in helping the manager clarify the role of the employee and can provide the necessary means, knowledge or power to control solutions.

Likewise, managers may view the supervisory role as entailing responsibility for all solutions because they doubt either the self-motivation or ability of others. Carried to the extreme, this orientation could result in an over-controlling manager or one who does everything alone because it is easier. This orientation could be dysfunctional when it leads to underutilization of employees and frustration of the part of those employees who desire responsibility.

It is important to note that while congruence between the manager and subordinates in basic helping orientations may be the most desirable state of affairs in some instances, there are cases where this might produce a dysfunctional relationship. If, for example, the basic helping orientation of both managers and subordinates in a work group reflected the expertise model where problem responsibility is low and solution responsibility is low, one might well question whether the work group would be effective in situations that required them to function autonomously.

Awareness of one's orientation could help managers realize they must discriminate between situations and individuals in deciding what constitutes reasonable expectations. Understanding the supervisory role as comprised of sets of orientations and related helping behaviors could assist managers to be more effective in when and how to offer certain types of help when interacting with particular subordinates.

Joseph F. Michlitsch, Ph.D., teaches strategy and management at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Michlitsch also conducts seminars and workshops on topics of strategic management and planning, team building and overall participative involvement programs. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.
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Title Annotation:Employee Motivation
Author:Michlitsch, Joseph F.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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