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"Cigarette Butts and Cold Brass": What Police Call and Football Taught Me About Supervisio

Supervision and Leadership Training Events

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):

1. Leaders must excel at supervision when delegating tasks instead of micromanaging or abdicating.

2. Authority granted must be commensurate with responsibility given.

3. Use the football method to quickly improve supervision skills for individuals and entire organizations.


As an Infantry Unit Leader, I cultivated a passion for developing subordinate leaders. But in my early days as an 18-year-old TOW Gunner (I got to fire missiles at tanks with minimal supervision), I was responsible for far less. As you can imagine, the Marines train hard, and train often in order to be successful in life-or-death combat situations. One of the ways we do that is by firing weapons. Many, many weapons. The mess left behind must be cleaned, especially after firing tens of thousands of bullets for several days. We clean these disasters using a simple process called police call.

Police call is where Marines get on a line from one side of the range and walk, one step at a time, picking up anything that isn’t part of the natural landscape after each step. We use the phrase, “If it doesn’t grow, it goes” to reinforce that just about everything besides rocks, plants and dirt must be removed and put in your pocket or a trash bag. Behind the Marines of lower ranks are the NCO’s, or Non-Commissioned Officers. These are the Corporals and Sergeants who lead their Marines into combat. Their immediate job in this mundane but necessary instance is to supervise the Marines and ensure the police call’s effectiveness; that the range is cleaned to standard. And since we strive to leave things better than we found them, there’s an inherent competition to continually raise that standard of cleanliness.


“Supervision is not micromanaging. It’s upholding the standard to improve results and encourage higher levels of performance from everyone including the supervisor.”


If the Marines slack off, the supervision method increases from taking one step at a time to crawling on hands and knees. This doesn’t happen often, but on occasion it’s necessary in order to uphold the standard. As you can imagine, the Marines quickly improve their performance and attention to detail and do a much better job. The NCO’s are right there with them, picking up trash, in the same heat or cold, and are just as tired. But they’re not present in order to micromanage. Their purpose isn’t to tell the individual Marines exactly what trash to pick up, or how and when. It’s only to supervise the process and uphold the standard.

Marines Crawling and Supervising


One of the phrases that I used to hear frequently when I was a newly-promoted NCO was, “inspect what you expect”. This is self-explanatory, but many leaders today don’t supervise, even if their job title is “supervisor”! In fact, employee disengagement in the U.S. costs up to $550 Billion annually. Roughly 30% of those statistics come from supervisors who are self-admittedly disengaged and fail to supervise. That means that supervisors who fail to inspect the work of their people account for roughly $165 Billion in costs to American businesses. It’s likely higher, since employee engagement is nearly entirely dependent upon the front-line supervisor and 8 out of 10 supervisors admit to having little-to-no job satisfaction according to a study published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).


“8 out of 10 supervisors admit they are disengaged and not happy at work.”


What are the real benefits of inspecting or supervising the work progress of your people? Five come to mind:

1. The company leadership (and therefore everyone) is aware of progress, challenges, and performance.

2. Small problems stay small or are resolved before becoming big problems.

3. Top performers are recognized quickly, which is the greatest contributor to high-performing employee engagement.

4. New leaders learn leadership skills, supervisory tactics, and their authority is reinforced to subordinates, actually increasing trust.

5. Employees who are struggling to achieve the standard are redirected, encouraged, or given an improved process, thereby improving the results of the company’s efforts.


A study by found that 58% of managers and supervisors stated they received no management training and were promoted simply because they were “good at their job and stuck around long enough”. That means they’re not necessarily adept at leading or inspiring higher levels of performance in others or providing opportunities for the development of their people.


“Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

– Abraham Lincoln -


One of the most effective methods for training new leaders is to give them the authority to delegate responsibilities to their people. The problem with that, however, is that those very same leaders to whom you gave responsibility and the commensurate level of authority to supervise, fail to give any authority to their people despite giving them additional tasks or responsibilities. One doesn’t have to be a leader/supervisor/manager to have authority. Every employee is given the authority to perform the basic functions of their job or duties. But when a leader delegates additional responsibility to an employee, they must learn to also grant the authority to complete that task.

For example, if a maintenance employee was given the responsibility of ensuring that one million dollars’ worth of machinery must be kept operational but is not given permission to spend more than $500 without first consulting with their supervisor before purchasing any necessary parts or tools, then the supervisor has already failed that maintenance worker and created a bottleneck within the organization. Any time a leader asks an employee to “run it by me first”, they are effectively creating a point of friction. That’s sometimes necessary, but if done frequently, stagnates the growth and development of employees.


Over my years of training and developing leaders I learned that there are several effective ways to improve the supervision skills of new and seasoned leaders. Here are my top three recommendations:

1. Before delegating responsibilities to one of your people, ensure that they are willing and equipped to accept those duties. This may require that you explain, train, or equip that person for the task.

2. Clearly identify the standard of performance and your expectations.

3. Use the football method to supervise one person through entire organizations.

Football and supervision method


The football method of supervision is a quick analogy that I’ve used over the years to train new leaders in an effective way to very quickly improve their leadership skills. Here’s the quick breakdown of the three elements.

End Zone: This is what you want the desired endstate to look like. What would our company or the situation look like if the task was done perfectly? It should include the 5W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why).

Out of Bounds: This is when they would have to "run it by me" first. But no football game would be any fun if the field was only 10 yards wide. There has to be enough space for the players to play. When creating the boundaries, make sure your team can play effectively, and call audibles.

Yard Lines: This is how you monitor progress. Each yard line can be a different metric of success


End Zone: “No later than 4:00 Friday afternoon, you will ensure that we have trained every member of our organization on current sexual harassment policies and procedures in order to uphold the highest levels of safety, respect, and camaraderie, while also keeping our company legally compliant with all current regulations.”

Out of Bounds: “You may not spend over $2,500 without speaking with me. You cannot have our production line offline for more than one hour per day. I don’t want men and women segregated.

Yard Lines: “Report to me when 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of the company is trained.” - OR - “Please bring me a progress report at 4:00 each day.” - O R- “Let me know as each department is trained (production, shipping, sales, etc.)

In each of the reporting or progress examples, you’ll notice that I encourage the return and report method of supervision. Don’t hover over your people while they work. “Just checking up” on them makes them feel micromanaged. You gave them the trust to come up with their own plan and accomplish a task, so trust them to come find you and give you progress reports.

Ultimately, supervision is about ensuring that your team completes a task to standard, time management, leadership development, and results. So get out there and inspect what you expect!

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