One of the most difficult aspects of teaching high school English in northeast China was supervising my students, establishing and maintaining some kind of authority over them without succumbing to the desire to try to be their friend. Similarly, in my previous job, a significant challenge was supervising a staff of two regular employees and three students employees, all of whom were about my own age (or in one case, older). How was I to establish authority when I felt like I didn’t really have it in the first place?
Another NAFSA session I attended focused on this difficulty young professionals can face supervising our peers. It’s not easy to manage those who aren’t that much younger than us, or our own age or older. Several suggestions presented at the session for dealing with this challenge included:
- Ask for feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask those who might know more, even if they are younger than you/those whom you supervise.
- Seek training for a professional supervisory role.
- You might be self-conscious of your age, but typically those whom you are supervising won’t perceive your doubt if you don’t show it. So don’t show it.
- Many of us (as I did in China) have a tendency to want those we supervise to like us—friendliness is fine, but drawing a balance is important. “Don’t share drinking stories,” as you aren’t there to be friends with those you are supervising.
These last two points are especially important. I found that the best way to establish authority was to project it, even if it made me uncomfortable. Eventually, however, by projecting authority, I came to believe more and more that I actually had it, and thus became more and more comfortable as a supervisor.