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Are You in Charge?

Clint Maun, CSP

First, let’s review what a leader is not. Strong leaders are not managers sitting on the fence, spending time listening to employee’s problems and getting stuck in the middle between the organization’s needs and the resident’s needs. You will make your life easier and be a stronger leader by utilizing the reasons you were put in your position - your perception, intuition and ability to know which way the organization ought to be going to lead it to a successful result.

The following is a lesson in leadership, not a political opinion:
Jimmy Carter is a very nice and pleasing person to have one-on-one chats with, but he will not go down in history as a gung-ho leader for positive results. Carter gets the blame for double-digit inflation in the ’70’s, the Iranian hostage crisis and for a lot of turmoil following Watergate. Was that entirely Jimmy Carter’s fault? No, but you’ve got to understand that he wasn’t extremely charismatic or articulate. During his administration many people were running around not knowing where to go because leadership did not give the followership a good lead to follow.

In comes Ronald Reagan. In the late ’70’s he began with two or three themes and did not change them for almost a decade. People found he stuck with what he thought was important. As a result, he received followership. History will tell us whether his leadership was right for the U.S., but he acted as if he knew where he was going, so people got on board and followed. Even in the middle of turmoil in his administration, he communicated a sense of where people were headed.

Whether you like Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan is not the point. The point is, President Reagan will be remembered well because the ways he accomplished his goals were well-perceived.

Expectations, Results, Resources
Unless people know what’s expected of them on the job, unless they know how to measure their successes or failures, and unless they can control resources, it’s unlikely they will be motivated to get the job done.

To be focused, people need to know what’s expected. Sit down with your employees and communicate what success looks like. For example, "There are 14 things that must be accomplished today. These are . . ."  Then be specific about the documentation, rehabilitation, socialization and medication actions that must be taken. Somebody is going to say,  "We should do 32 things", and somebody else will say, "We’ll be lucky to get two done".  Throw out those comments and stick to the middle ground. Talk to everyone first, and then make your decision.

How do you know you’re on track? Don’t wait until the end of the shift to find the staff is behind and will need to again work overtime to make it up. Determine the pace of the work that will allow everyone in the department to meet goals, and divide the day’s inter-performance goals. Once the time to accomplish work is determined, each person can measure his or her own performance against a standard.

Americans need to keep score. If you don’t give people ways to keep score, they’ll develop their own scorekeeping system, which may or may not be productive - "Well, I’ve got more heavy care people than she does."  In measuring for your organization, don’t measure people all day. People measure themselves. It’s an important distinction. You can check people with a quality assurance audit or run down the hall and see if their jobs are done, but you need to allow people to check themselves. Teach them to be up-front and honest with you and you’ll know if they are on track or if the schedule needs to be adjusted before the end of the shift.

After you have defined expectations and given employees ways to measure themselves, let them have control of the resources to get the job done - supplies, equipment and flexibility on schedules. Many leaders want to manage the one thing that doesn’t count: who can get the keys into the supply room for paper clips and pens. We don’t need to spend our time that way.

Have an Agenda and Priorities
Trying to make everybody happy by jumping back and forth between employees and being a manager is dangerous. It doesn’t mean there have to be two sides to an organization - employees and management - but you need to let people know that you are in charge.

It’s nice to be liked, but you need to also be respected. If you spend your day worrying whether people like you, some will dislike you and few will respect you. You will have times when employees don’t like what you ask of them or simply resent the fact you requested anything. There’s no way around that. You have elected to work in a human services operation and you’re dealing with people all day. What’s more, you’re dealing with people who are dealing with people. You’re in what we call an intense human operating situation.

Are you making sure employees like you before deciding what’s best to do for the customer? Are you spending time organizing work so it’s constantly fair to everybody? If so, you are making the wrong commitment. Setting goals that are customer-centered and good for the organization are also good for you and the employees.

Know Where You are Going
Organizations need a sense of purpose, direction and of where things are going. Often that should start in the first ten minutes of the workday. If you let the day start the wrong way - with conflict, chaos and negative talk - it sets the tone for the entire day. Don’t let people get you off track with things that happened during the previous shifts, problems from their outside lives, hassles they had when the car didn’t start. You must take the leadership role. It is a commitment you must make.

Avoid setting too many goals. You don’t need a hundred things to work on. You need one or two consistent goals that will provide solid direction. If you run around without focus, you can be sure that everybody who reports to you also will, because they are modeling your behavior. The problem is not that people aren’t following your lead; it’s that they are following your lead.

Take charge by deciding on an agenda each day. Shake hands or perform a figurative handshake by looking people in the eye and nodding. Say, "Good morning. It will be great working with you."  A crisp, clean agenda for the day gives the impression you know where you are going. If you start that way, it’s going to continue that way.

Select Goals, Be Firm
If you spend your day worrying about one or two problem people, it doesn’t leave time to deal with the good people, the ones who want to produce success for your customers. Quit worrying about making those few problem people happy.

Pick one or two goals that are important for this week, this month, this shift and stick with them. Remember, meeting two goals is better than striving for two hundred. Whatever the goals involve, talk about it and show people you’re going to keep score. Let them know you plan to succeed in meeting goals, and the day will start with a direct, solid effort.

Some people not on board will come on board when they see where the place is going and they can follow the solid leadership you provide.

Living in the Now
Look around the place you work and see how different people live in different periods of time. They are living in the Past Now, Current Now or Future Now.

Being around people living in the Past Now is depressing. They believe something great happened in the past, but nothing is going to be right in the future. A lot of organizations are stuck in the past, too. "If we had only done this...If...If..."  Living in the past is a nonproductive way to live.

Seemingly fun people, but equally dangerous, are the Future Now people. They’re waiting for good things to happen. "As soon as we get the new computer, have all staff vacancies filled."  Nothing gets done while they wait. Living in the future is as fruitless as living in the past.

The key to being productive is to be firmly rooted in today’s issues. Is your shift or unit focused on today’s issues? What did we learn from the past that will help us now? What are we going to do now to make it better in the future? That is how you deal with the past and future.

It all starts with the person in charge, because if you are out of focus, there is a good chance the people who report to you will be out of focus, too. You’ll have negativity if you wait for the future. People will sit around and wait for something to happen. And if you spend time talking about how great the past was, you are neglecting to deal with today’s issues.

If you’d like to be a better leader and be "In Charge", click here.