How many people can you supervise, manage, or lead?
I once heard someone brag that they had 12 direct reports while their peer only had 4. I have heard of people having 25 direct reports. My first thought is WOW!, how can all those people receive effective leadership from their boss? How can the boss be an effective leader? The person with 4, that sounds about right. But the rest, that is just insane (if you ask me).
How many people can you supervise? How many can you manage… lead? Is there a difference? Does it really matter? And what difference does it really make if you have 1, 10, or 100 people working for you?
It definitively matters – all of it.
First, let’s frame this question a little better. Is there a difference between supervising, managing, and leading? Of course! And here is my take.
If you are a supervisor, then you are the first line leader to those you that work for you. This generally requires knowledge of how and what your team does (not in a micromanaging way though). Tasks are delegated from you to them, and they report progress and issues directly to you. Chances are good that you provide periodic evaluations to them as well.
If you take this as “I am their supervisor” then you likely take your job seriously and provide regular (quarterly, annually, etc.) reviews and help your team members grow as individuals and as a team. You serve those that work for you and desire to see them succeed.
If you take this role as “I am just the supervisor” then you are probably disengaged and serve as some level of junior management with an additional duty of being responsible for others and their work. You accepted the role for the extra pay.
If you are a manager, then you are probably responsible for a larger group such as a retail store, restaurant, department in an office, and so on. You will have supervisors that report directly to you, and they may have subordinate supervisors as well. Your focus is on the bigger picture (strategy) of your department, store, or group. You receive guidance from your manager (boss, supervisor – leader), develop a plan, and delegate different aspects to your subordinate supervisors to implement.
If you handle your responsibility as “I am their manager” then you will be engaged and provide task and purpose to your subordinate supervisors, and enable them to make decisions. You also understand that they have their own team to supervise and give them the time to work with their team.
If you are “just the manager” then you are likely regurgitating directives from your supervisor and have your subordinates do the work. Little direction or clarification is provided and you are likely to be “checking the box” regarding most of your own duties – completing your piece of the strategic plan, overseeing the development of your subordinate supervisors, and those evaluations or reviews – those will get done some day.
Often, these position (supervisor and manager) can be overwhelming. If you find yourself in a position where you are just the supervisor or manager and you want to be more, ask your leadership for help – they should help you, it is their job. If not, then find someone who will!
If you are a leader, then you are providing motivation and inspiration, task and purpose, guidance and direction to those that work for and around you. Leading effectively will cause others to notice and respond positively, even if they do not work directly for you.
Leaders are distinct from supervisors or manager, or even directors. Supervisors, manager, and directors are titles – if you have the title, then you are one. Leaders, on the other hand, are not titles given to you with a raise. You either are one, or not. They are earned. But, leaders can be found everywhere – the supervisor, manager, employee, team member – anyone! An employee can motivate and inspire others to achieve more, the supervisor can provide clear task and purpose, encouraging them to achieve more for themselves and their team, or the manager can provide guidance and direction. They can all be leaders!
Back to the question, how many people can I supervise?
I look at it this way, what do I want to accomplish with your team? If you merely want to provide some level of oversight and direction, then you can probably supervise or manage 15, 20, who knows how many people – but probably quite a bit. If that is all you want to do, then sure.
Now, if you want to make a real impact, then supervising and managing should include mentoring, regular feedback, constructive criticism, opportunities for personal and professional growth, regular and consistent reviews. You should be open and available to have your team members bring just about any issue to your attention. Do this, and you will become – or be – a leader.
There is a cost to this. If you are really leading others, and fulfilling your leadership duties (mentoring, appraisals, professional development), then you will not have the time to do this for 25 people successfully. Consider the time it will take to do this effectively. Perhaps 5-8 is more reasonable. This will allow you to serve them and your organization well, and see them develop into future leaders themselves.
A solution to this is to develop subordinate leaders and empower them to make lead, manage, and supervise their own teams. This requires the fine art of delegation and can be quite empowering if done correctly.
So what do you choose? Do you ask for more direct reports so you can brag about how many people work directly for you? Or, do you develop others, and truly lead your team to success? The choice is yours.