This blog is about key factors and common qualities uncovered in the process of investigating “The Greatest Leadership Experience Ever”. It has been inspired by countless contributions from meaningful conversations and interviews with thousands of frontline workers, team leaders, supervisors, managers and executives, from a variety of human service sectors.
Before I share the information I have promised, I want you, the reader to take a moment and consider, “Thinking back on your career, when was supervision or your supervision experience the ‘Best/Greatest Ever’?” I would also encourage you to consider, “What and/or who was it that made it so great?”
What did you come up with? What were the ingredients, qualities or factors that made it so great?
Throughout thousands of conversations, interviews and exercises that focus on these questions, 4 Key Factors have consistently surfaced to the top of the list every single time and, have directly contributed to the Greatest Leadership Experiences Ever for many people!
The 4 key Factors are: Respect, Trust, Empathy, and Validation. Now, there are some similar yet slightly varying answers that have been runner-ups on the list of qualities. They include, understanding, affirmation, genuineness, supportiveness, encouragement, caring, connectedness, and listener. Despite the variations in responses to the above questions, consistently 90 % of the items on the list are all relational in nature and, when grouped together are referred to as safety. Safety?
What does safety mean? Employees have needs and goals to feel good about themselves and the work. Staff members want to feel and know that they matter and what they do matters! Workers need to feel like they can ask questions, say “I don’t know”, take chances and/or make “mistakes” without being criticized, judged, blamed, or labeled as incapable or a “problem” staff.
Many of the interviewees, when reflecting upon their positive past supervision experiences, state that it was a time in their career when they felt the best and wanted to do their best! Yes. The 4 Key factors are critical for the attainment of preferred staff outcomes and subsequently client outcomes.
As a leader and supporter of leaders this discovery of the 4 key factors has been quite profound, and simultaneously disturbing. Where did I learn about safety in my training to be a supervisor or manager? Which courses focused on developing respectful, trusting, empathic and validating skills? Where do supervisors and managers learn to build these types of connections with their staff and team members? As a formal trainer and consultant, I’ve considered where was it in the curriculum that teaches leaders how to develop these skills. Other than one or two courses on interpersonal communication skills we weren’t teaching this stuff! To a large extent it is not present in most leadership curricula! If and when it is there, the 4 factors are often given a great deal of lip service on importance, but skill development is seriously lacking.
I truly believe that this reality is a contributing factor as to why 40 – 50 % of employees in the human service industry have reported neutral to negative experiences with supervision and the supervision relationship! I think the 4 Key ingredients, to some degree or other are not operating in a manner that is necessary within the actions and interactions; the dynamics, the human aspect of the supervision experience.
So, where should we place our energy and efforts as leaders when it comes to doing the best for and getting the best from our employees? Well, thousands of workers have spoken. They need and want the 4 Key Factors to be operating in their experience of the work and especially in the context of supervision. When they feel better, they do better!
It is important to keep in mind that Respect, Trust, Empathy and Validation can look different to different people at different times. This is why I no longer try to define what these values are. Just as I stated in the last Blog, leaders must find out what these things mean to their staff. Once we have an understanding of what the 4 key factors represent, we are better able to operationalize the specific values in the context of leader-employee interactions.
This a great start, but doesn’t mean that we will be able to accommodate the needs and goals of our staff if our skills in these areas require development. This brings me to my next suggestion. We must search for and promote leadership training and support programs that make the operationalization of the 4 Factors a primary focus of leadership skill development. We can no longer assume that supervisors and managers have the capacity to provide a great leadership experience.
If we really want to work towards the greatest outcomes for the children, youth, families and communities we serve we must be able to provide those who support them with a good-to-great leadership experience.
Some people might think that it is impossible to teach these types of skills, because they are embedded in personal beliefs and values. While this is true, future Blogs will demonstrate that Leadership Qualities are behavioral and can be learned by most people. This is great news for all supervisors, managers and executives who want to become great leaders!
Please feel free to join me here; hold me accountable; give me feedback; make suggestions; ask questions and; provide input.
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