Leadership depends greatly on relationships. It is a human business. Studies conducted by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus1 find that leaders spend upwards of 90% of their time with others and on people problems. The social work profession has long recognized the “use of self” as an essential characteristic of the helping profession. Use of self
is also a major leadership tool
Leaders generally know early in their careers what they are good at and where their weaknesses are. Effective leaders openly acknowledge their weaknesses and allow others to compensate without undue risk. They actively seek people who will complement them, extending their competence. Listed below are some questions that effective leaders typically explore. Leaders may also want to use other recognized self-assessment instruments that provide perspectives from peers, supervisors and subordinates on their behavior.
Vignette: A state agency director traveled to meet field staff. Staff were upset over an action taken by the agency. As the conversation went on, the director became noticeably impatient and finally said, “This conversation is ended. The decision is made I suggest you shut up and do it.” While staff feared his authority they never respected his
leadership. The word of the day becam emalicious compliance; decisions were implemented superficially and without real commitment.
Successful leaders work on improving their own skills and discipline as well as nurturing the skills of those around them. This requires taking chances and accepting that some failures will occur in the process of learning for both the leader and their staff. They recognize that senior executive staff is, in many ways, more visible to staff on a daily basis. And it is senior staff that will carry and translate the messages.
Effective leaders clearly articulate how they intend to behave and how they expect their senior
staff to behave. They do not leave it to chance or to second-guessing.
New directors most often have an executive team that is comprised of some inherited staff and some
new staff they either bring with them or are able to hire. Regardless of composition, effective
leaders spend considerable time “nurturing” both the individual members and the team as a whole.
They want to nurture and take advantage of the different personalities, styles and perspectives
each member brings while helping the team learn to work together under new direction and new
expectations. Directors can expect to face the following challenges.
Acquire New Skills
There are a number of sources that provide lists of competencies needed for effective leadership,
most of which are relevant and easily adaptable to public child welfare directors.
There are several additional skills Warren Bennis and Burt Nanos consider critical to managing
one’s own behavior.