We discuss leadership in regard to caring for children. Because a leader (of a company, organization, agency, school or group) is uniquely positioned as responsible for the impact of the entire organization, he/she must decide how to portray it relationally—within and outside the organization. Whether profit-driven or nonprofit and mission-driven, one key issue denoting success is how leadership maintains relationships with staff. An emotionally and relationally healthy leader willingly interacts in a resonant way with his/her staff.
A healthy organization’s leadership and the image of a circle
Dr. Sandy Bloom, a good friend of ours at Lakeside, has written about a concept called the Circle of Leadership. The concept means that a healthy organization is not necessarily run from the top down. Instead, there is an image of a group of a people in a circle who each have input into how the organization functions and grows. I find this image helpful in describing the right kind of structure to maintain an effective organization. I do believe there has to be a decision-maker (or decision-makers), but I also believe most successful organizations have leaders who are intentional about soliciting feedback.
I find the television show Undercover Boss intriguing.
The premise of the show is that the president of a company infiltrates the ranks of employees, works alongside them and hears their life stories and situations. It is moving to see the president get a new perspective on what is truly going on in the organization. At the conclusion of the experience, the president meets the employee and each expresses rich emotions about the experience. Inevitably, the president utilizes some company resources to help the employees in their lives. It is gratifying for the employees to realize they were heard, validated and helped.
Though I reference a reality television show, the idea of getting feedback from employees is a powerful principle of leadership inherent to every healthy organization.
We may not be able to form a literal circle of leaders, but we most certainly can be intentional leaders willing to hear what staff members face each day. It is up to us leaders to make our organizations places of positive change in which feedback is honored and change is feasible. For example, improvements occur in emotional safety and productivity. The organization becomes a place where staff want to stay and continue their vocations and careers.
Leaders have a significant entrustment: the entire company, each staff member and family.
Resonant leadership begins when a leader desires feedback, applies good listening skills and compassion, is fluid in management style and willing to make adjustments to the organizational environment to accommodate the best interests of employees.
Resonant leadership avoids the cluelessness, detachment and lack of compassion for those in employment for whom its has stewardship. Leaders who are in tune and aware of what is going on in the lives of their employees are best equipped to make decisions invaluable to their staff.
Sometimes creating feedback discussion forums takes time.
When I first came to Lakeside, for several years I interviewed every employee asking what was good and what needed improvement in the organization. I learned so much from them. The feedback helped shape the core beliefs and principles that continue to guide our entire organizational environment.
The manner of acquiring feedback has changed as we have gotten larger. Yet, the information we are getting today continues to be essential to our work environment, future and success. While it can be difficult to get people to speak out, they will…if we are careful to listen, then we will find the circle of leadership because everyone will have the opportunity to be heard.
The Circle of Leadership has a place in the fields of education and human services.
Particularly in the field of human services and education, where so many difficult issues to deal with and high staff burn-out exist, being heard helps employees feel like they have a vital part of the character of the organization and its impact on the children and families they serve. It is a way they can be an integral and important part of leadership no matter what position they hold.
I am convinced that we will build great environments in which to work when we work and lead in a circle, with everyone all in.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network