Leadership Reflections Part 4 – December 28, 2001

Gerry La Londe-Berg, December 28, 2001

Here are several lessons I’ve learned about leadership, supervision and management (three distinct things).

The very first lesson I recall learning about management came from a camp director when I was a sophomore in high school.  Steve Noceti told me, “If you want to be a manager, you have to be willing to sweep the floor.”  By this he meant, and I took, that if you want to lead people you have to be right there with them in their work. And the manager has to be the one who follows up and assures that everything is done, even the little details.  I don’t still sweep the floors, but I have.  I personally add, in my own thinking, that this should be done with humility and never with chagrin.  I usually don’t even let people know that I was the one who looked out for the little details.  Having them done just makes a nicer workplace.

A second key thought: I believe that the secret to success in a bureaucracy is “Hold Onto your Discretion.”  I learned this from Robert Pruger at Berkeley.  His description of life in the bureaucracy was very helpful.  Each of us has a great deal of discretion and choice in our daily activity.  Even within any set of rules and regulations, individuals perform the implementation, hence there is inherent discretion.  Any good manager or supervisor values the quality of what we perform as individuals.  If the individual produces quality, as it is defined in that setting, then the people leading the system (if they are smart) let the individual continue to perform with minimal interference.  Therefore, by producing quality we increase our range of discretion.

In a well run bureaucracy, those who produce a quality product are promoted and/or listened to; our inputs into policy development are also respected (thus providing leadership in a sense).  Adding our input into policy yet again increases our discretion by letting us shape our work environment.

In contrast, someone who is not doing well is questioned.  They are monitored.  Their range of discretion is limited.  The poorer someone performs, then the more their supervisor tries to guide and direct them.  They have lost discretion.  As a supervisor, I explicitly described this to the people I supervised.  I tried to let them know that I would allow them the maximum discretion it was in my authority to offer them as long as they performed well and attended to quality.

In our human services settings the quality is defined both by competence in our tasks as well as by compassion in performing them.  I have found that clearly discussing goals, parameters and transgressions in an empathetic way has helped those I supervised bring out the best they could provide.  I also think that respect and honesty play a huge role in all this.  People respond well to high expectations.  They also appreciate if someone helps them, and shows them, the areas that could be improved.  The strategic use of both Individual Employee Conferences and group Staff Meetings allow multiple opportunities to create shared positive expectations.

For me a third key element I use is data.  Empirical facts, gathered from the actual work processes and products stands up well to scrutiny.  I track the things that are important, and, I share his data to those above me and to those below me in the system.  Surprisingly, neither those above me, nor those below me ever gave me much feedback about the value of the data (this is as true in 2009 as it was in 2001).  Maybe it’s just my way of looking at the world, but I like to know what is going on, and I like to be able to prove it.  As a supervisor, I have found that I have to explain the data and put it in context for those around me.  By doing so I am demonstrating leadership.  I can also measure whether a particular strategy has borne results.  I do rely on the data the system develops, but I study it carefully.  I also keep my own set of data (cases carried, cases closed, outcomes, types of cases, etc) to track what I am interested in and capture some things that aren’t asked for.

Some summary points:

  • Remember, a supervisor is a teacher.
  • A supervisor needs to be very discreet and hold confidences.
  • A supervisor needs to use their own supervisor as a guide, mentor and advisor.
  • A person promoted to supervisor still keeps their friends, but the relationship has changed.
  • In most workplaces the good will and mutual respect are there between line staff and supervisors.  Some people try to test you though.
  • Maybe I’m somewhat dense, but there were also a variety of things which people don’t tell you, as the supervisor.  If it’s not related to the quality of the work and how we serve our clients/patients then sometimes it’s best to just let that stuff go.
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