What Every Supervisor Should Know

Recently, I was quite bored during a teleconference (seriously, is there ever a teleconference where we aren’t bored…a discussion for another day) when I happened to glance at my bookshelf and noticed a book I picked up a while ago. (“Picked up.” That’s funny. See below.)  The book by Lester B. Bittel (I’m not making that up) is titled What Every Supervisor Should Know.  Why, you might ask, would I have this on my bookshelf, allow it to catch my eye, and feel it is worth bringing to your attention?

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those posts where we talk about how managers shouldn’t forget their roots, or one where we discuss how auditors should recognize the demands of a supervisor’s job, or one where we apply the traits every supervisor needs to the roles and responsibilities of auditors, managers, and CAEs. Nope. None of those. I bring it to your attention because this particular book was published in 1959. Yep, 52 years ago this book was an instrumental part of someone’s training on how to be the best supervisor he (and you’ll see why I say he in a second) could be.
But let me start by admitting my crime. I was working with our audit group in Portland, Oregon a number of years ago. We were meeting in the Regional Office “library”. Now, I can’t ignore books. If there is a stack of books I will peruse them and fondle them and open them and skim them and, in general, treat them like the jewel I believe any book is. In my perusal and fondling and opening and skimming I stumbled across this book. It was far too great a treasure to ignore. 
I stole this book.
And by doing so (he said, doing his best to show that “justification” is an important part of any fraud) I feel I have given the book new life. Seriously, was anyone going to “check” this book out? When the office closed a few years ago, do you think anyone would have kept it? I am convinced my actions saved this book from being thrown on the ash heap of history. Okay, the real reason I took it? It is just too danged funny.
In support of the book’s hilarity, I present the following evidence. Section Three: Supervising People – Special Techniques; Chapter 19: Supervising Women Workers. (You can see this one coming all the way down Broadway, can’t you.) The chapter is divided into questions. Following –some of the questions with the answers.
(First sentence of the chapter) “Isn’t a woman’s place in the home?” (The book does defend that this is not necessarily true)
“Why do women work?” “One woman will want the extra income to keep up with the Joneses…” “And of course there are hundreds of thousands of girls jut out of high school whose parents expect them to work until they marry.”
“Do women need more attention than men?” “Consideration, yes. Attention, no. A woman likes to feel the boss takes a personal interest in her.”
“Are women better at some jobs than at others?” “…it seems pretty certain that women are exceptionally good at jobs requiring: Quick fingers…Patience…An eye for color.”
But here’s the icing on this particularly strange cake - the cartoon at the top of the chapter. A gentleman in shirt and tie with rolled up sleeves is sternly speaking to a group of women, his finger raised as he makes his point. He is quite obviously not happy with their performance. There are three women. They are in work overalls. The two blondes have long curly hair; one is winding one finger in her blonde locks. The other blonde is batting her long eyelashes at the gentleman. The third woman is a brunette with a stylish 50’s ponytail. She is turned sideways, coquettishly looking sideways at the gentleman. All three are, shall we say…curvaceous. In spite of this description, I am not doing this cartoon the justice (or injustice) it deserves. Nor am I making this up.
Now, it’s real easy to make fun of this book. But it should be noted that the questions being asked represent some of the feelings about women in the 50’s. And the author is actually trying to dispel some of these myths. And it should be noted that, overall, this book represents the prevailing mindset of America in the 50’s.   And, at this point I will refrain from saying “You’ve come a long way baby.” But, it is nice to see that things have changed. Perfect yet? Nope. But such a revisit does help us see what used to be and what is now.

Posted on Apr 8, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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  1. What  "USED TO BE" in America is still happening in some countries, and some of the questions you mentioned above are still being asked in my country!

  1. Jad, that is a fantastic point.  A couple of years ago I was leading an IIA Seminar "Tools and Techniques for the New Audit Manager."  A gentleman from the Middle East was one of the participants.  He had some excellent insights and thoughts about the management process and was a great asset to the seminar.  That is, until we got to the discussions about HR issues.  He literally could not understand what all the discussion was about.  If a woman got pregnant you either reassigned or fired her.  Women had to dress correctly.  It was corect for men to have higher positions than women.  I think you get the idea.

    I have had other participants from the Middle East, and I know this is not necessarily the prevailing attitude.  But it is a fact that "used to be" is still prevelant in some areas (including some places in the States.) 

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