Check out my new article published today in the fall issue of the New Social Worker Magazine! Thinking about AmeriCorps as a way to social work and want to talk first hand with some one who has done it? Contact me -would love to connect!
When I became a supervisor in the social work field, I was the youngest one on my team. Being in this position, I reached out for resources wherever possible, including reading a lot of materials on social work supervision.
I think part of being a young supervisor is that I adopted a more collaborative versus authoritarian supervisory style, that took into account the perspective of all members on my team, who often had many more years experience than myself.
I wanted to share a few pieces from one of the books that I found helpful as I navigated the new experience of providing supervision in the hopes that it will be useful to others who find themselves with similar feelings to what I described.
The first place to start is to evaluate and be self-aware of your leadership style. Do you know what style you tend towards? If not, read on!
Authoritarian Leadership Style: magnifies the bigger picture and links individual’s work to this bigger picture.
Strengths: ” provides clear direction,” “mobilizes people towards a vision,” “provides clear feedback on what is and is not working.”
Challenges : ” can become overbearing” ” can be dismissed” when the leader is not able to get staff on board with the larger vision or if staff feel that the leader does not “have the knowledge or experience” to support the vision.
Strengths: Growth in worker’s trust resulting in sharing ideas and innovation, “generates a sense of commitment and of belonging”
Challenges : ” can leave people directionless, tends to lack “enough feedback on poor performance.”
Democratic Leadership Style: “operates from principles of participation and collaboration”
Strengths: Can gain increased collaboration and create strong staff buy-in
Challenges : Can lead to “a sense of lack of direction and leadership” and more practically can lead to the “frustration of endless meetings.”
Coaching Leadership Style: “focuses on individual strengths and traits of workers and invests and grows these for the future”
Strengths: “able to have a high level of delegation” to workers through use of the support of frequent dialogue.
Challenges : The major drawback of this style is the time involved in making this style work.
Most of us feel most comfortable within one of these leadership styles. However, we are stronger and more versatile leaders when we can harness the strengths of each style within various situations and with various staff that may have different leadership needs.
Utilizing emotional intelligence will guide us towards which style is most appropriate for the tasks and persons we encounter as supervisors. For example, a supervisor who is able to blend authoritarian and affiliative leadership style are able to provide their staff with “clear vision and standards” while also showing a “caring and nurturing approach” that builds team committment.
How have you found a leadership style that has created a healthy, supported, and productive team? What experiences as a supervisor helped shape your leadership style? What supervisors have made an impact on you- what did they do to support your work? Write me your thoughts and I would love to share them in a future blog post! Write me below!
Sharing below a new article of mine published in the New Social Worker Magazine today. Enjoy and check out the rest of the magazine for some great content! Be sure to comment and let me know your thoughts!
Anyone who has met me knows I think a lot about music. I like to play it, create it, and enjoy it. Lyrics from certain songs have had a significant impact on how I see the world and have also helped me to process emotions.
I keep an ear out for songs that have social or emotional value, as well as musical beauty. The song featured below checks all those boxes. Her message to society and those who have experience sexual assault is clear, as well as empathetic. It is a connection point to those who may have experienced assault or walked a friend through such an experience.
As someone who works in the homelessness field, the song is especially poignant for me. You don’t have to work very long in the homelessness field to hear story after story about those assaulted while just trying to find a safe place to sleep each night. That’s why it is on this social worker’s playlist.
The work social workers do could often be summed up this way…working to remind society of those that tend to be forgotten.
Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, said it this way-
“We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it.”
So we remind them. And, we remind ourselves.
In my undergrad years, I did an year long BSW internship with a home health agency. I worked with their LCSW. One day we got called out to a rural area to meet with a senior who was recovering from heart surgery. The visiting nurse thought a social worker should be involved.
His trailer was pretty dim due to the thick nicotine stains in the windows. We sat on a couch to start the visit and I remember the ash that had built up over time covered every surface. I realized there was soiled laundry piled on the ground.
He was nearly blind. He was a veteran, but unconnected to VA services. That first visit consisted of assessing the various areas of his life while on hold with the VA, whose physical office was a 2 hour drive away.
During that wait time, we found that the only food in the house was a half-eaten box of doughnuts. We found that every month he paid his space rent, bought cigarettes, and then gave the rest of his disability check to his grandson, who had just had a child of his own and was struggling to make ends meet.
Importantly, we found that giving this money to his grandson was the one act that still gave meaning to his life. It was the one reason he still wanted to be alive.
As we drove away , with a splitting headache from the copious amounts of second hand smoke, I wondered how someone could have flown totally under the radar of all the social systems and even the natural supports usually in place. As I continued in the practice of social work, I would learn that for seniors, and many other populations, it is not uncommon to be totally out of sight to mainstream society.
It was also an important lesson in how to connect with the inner purpose that makes someone want to get up in the morning, to let the work flow from there.
It was one of those cases that you never forget. It made me look at my community differently. It made me wonder what the lives behind each door in my neighborhood were really like.
p. s. I would love to hear what case has had a particular impact on you. Drop me a email.
I was thinking back about my first few weeks officially “doing social work.” Specifically, I was remembering back to the first time I hit THE perimeter-the place when you realize as a helper that you cannot “make it okay” for everyone experiencing suffering that comes into your life.
I was 23. I was halfway through completing my MSW degree at Jane Addams College of Social Work. Of course that meant I was also completing my practicum hours. Working at a grassroots community center on the Westside of the city was a phenomenally eye opening experience. Coming from the culturally homogenous rural area of Eastern Oregon to practicing social work in a minority-majority community in Chicago, I obviously learned a lot of lessons and skills that contributed to a more well rounded practice experience. I also got a lot of practice bumping up against the edge of help I could provide and was left, almost every day, feeling that what I could provide was so inadequate to what I wanted to be able to do.
I wanted to make magic happen for people, and while sometimes magical moments did happen, I had to come to terms with being ok with saying “I did my best today, if nothing more.”
It was in this context, that I experienced one of the major differences between rural and urban poverty. Urban poverty is exposed. It’s in your face. The sheer density of persons means there is literally less space to experience poverty in privacy. For a social worker, rural poverty is actually very difficult for this reason, because to engage with someone you must first find them-out in that secluded encampment or on the riverbank covered in dense brush-but mostly if a person in a rural area doesn’t want to be found by a social services worker, they won’t be. You have to develop eyes to see poverty in a rural community.
Coming from this background, it was jarring to live in Chicago. I felt at times that I was surrounded by suffering- on my walk to work, at work, at my internship,in my neighborhood, going to class, coming home from class…I had to find my perimeter. I had to learn that I couldn’t react to every situation of suffering I encountered. There was just too much.
On my way home from class around 11 one night, I was bundled against a frigid wind waiting at the blue line stop for my “L” train. I began a conversation with a women sitting on the platform. I was 23. She was 22. We were both fairly new to the city and we both talked about our boyfriends, we were similar in a lot of ways-except that she was pregnant. And, she was living under that “L” train platform. Sure, I had a crap apartment-with sporadic heat, no hot water, and some infestation problems (still can’t help but cringe at cockroaches) but our lives were night and day.
Unlike me, she didn’t have friends or family. She didn’t have safety, stability, food, warmth and 1,000 other things she needed. When my train pulled up and I left her there, I felt so low. What was the point of an MSW degree if I couldn’t help Megan?
After that, I always came prepared with something for Megan. Snacks, socks, gloves… we also had a conversation about getting WIC, nearby shelters and getting on the city’s master housing waitlist-the Chicago Central Referral System (CRS). But, it never felt like enough. I had to wrestle with my perimeter every time I saw her. To be honest, I still do most days.
I think the discomfort of hitting up against your perimeter as a helper is both something one has to come to terms with to remain in the social work profession, and it is also a gift. It is a reminder of a vision – what we as a community (whatever community you live in) need to be doing better. In my vision for community, Megan has a safe place to have her baby and live her life to the fullest. I strive for that while learning not to be paralyzed by suffering.
If you have mastered this, you’re already my hero-drop me a line.
I’ve heard my friend’s with various anxiety disorders describe the feeling of a panic attack in different ways, although around a cluster of similar systems. For me, it is simple to describe.
It feels like I’m dying. Not in the figurative way. In the literal, I’m having a heart attack call an ambulance kind of way. And I have- called an ambulance- and had them tell me that nothing is wrong and been left feeling silly, with only a big medical bill to show for it.
Ironically enough, it was during the time period in my life that I was trying to become the best helper I could be that I had to reach out for help myself.
Right after finishing my BSW, I worked for a summer and saved enough to buy my first car. I put everything I owned in it and moved 2,000 miles from Oregon to Chicago to start a new job. I was excited to start building my social work experience and to see a brand new part of the country. I had no friends or family in Chicago, although I would meet some of the best people I know by the time I was finished. I also didn’t understand how to exist in a city, or in the snow for that matter. I trusted people I shouldn’t have. I put myself in dangerous situation without even realizing what was happening. I never had enough money for food after paying rent and 1,000 other little stressors like this built up.
After a year of working in a housing and homelessness services agency, I decided to get my MSW at UIC. Financially, I needed to keep my job while I attended school, but I felt confident in my time management skills. I commuted each night after work on the blue line to UIC and back home around 11pm each night. I would do homework until 2am and start again at 6am. I also started the infamous unpaid social work internship at a wonderfully vibrant community center on the Westside. 20 hours a week on the weekends and evenings when I didn’t have class. I was coping and moving along. I did that for 6 months. Then all of the sudden, I wasn’t coping anymore.
I started having horrific panic attacks. A lot of them. It started to effect my work, then my school. I made a doctor’s appointment and was diagnosed with panic disorder by my MD. He started medication and I knew counseling would make it more effective. But who has the time for another appointment or the money for co-pays? It was strange to learn about the medication I was taking and read about panic disorder in my DSM for class, while also having this visceral embodiment of the disorder.
I was that overwhelmed client that we all wish would just make time to take care of their mental health.
It took a long time to start feeling better. I took the medication. I employed on myself all those self-talk strategies we learn. But still there were times when I was so convinced that I was dying that I thought ” I might as well kill myself and so I don’t have to go through all this fear before it happens.” It sounds melodramatic now, but it seemed logical in the moment.
A lot of little things helped along the way. Phone calls from my dad to walk me through some of the worst attacks, a casserole my coworker made me during finals, kind words of encouragement from my boyfriend and my supervisors. All were incredibly meaningful and brought me through to graduation.
Looking back, that time was an important part of my education. Just as much as what I learned in all my MSW coursework. I learned how to practice social work, while also reaching out for help for my own struggles. I learned that I have limits, that at times what I want to achieve surpasses the limits of what is healthy from my brain and body.
I know many social workers can relate to the paradox of being the helper who also needs help. I feel you.