Similar to my last post, this post is going to be for a specific school assignment. Although it is for an assignment, I think it is a great discussion among not only the social work community, but also the Christian community. So, here we go!
When I say the word “leadership” what do you think of? What are the traits and characteristics that immediately pop into your mind? I usually think of the president of student council, the church board members, the principle of a school, the captains of sports teams, etc. The list could go on and on and on. Personally, I feel like leadership is an opportunity to show people you care. It is an opportunity to utilize your own giftings and skills to serve. Yes, that’s right, I said the “s” word.
I know the word “serve” is not the first thing that comes to mind when we hear leadership. Some of us might get the picture of a huge army being led by one single person. How could that one single person “serve” an army? It sounds impossible doesn’t it? But think about the concept of servant leadership… what does that look like to you?
To me, it looks like a leader stepping off of the stage for a moment to help a follower. It means having compassion for the people under you and being passionate about your leadership role. I mean, c’mon, who wants to be a “follower” under someone who is not really passionate about what they are doing? I had an experience with this once.
It was my second year of college and I was the action officer of our missions club on campus. My specific role was to plan events to do missions work on our campus and in the city surrounding the campus. I was under a particular leader, whom I adored, don’t get me wrong, but she was not as passionate about the club as a few other leaders and myself. It was very difficult to work with someone like this. There were a lot of tensions. And honestly, the club is no longer in existence (there are more factors to that).
As a student studying a subject I am extremely passionate about, I often think about how I want to be a leader in my future career. In my undergraduate studies I always thought being a leader in social work meant being the absolute best, all the time. I was the student that got assignments done when everyone else asked for a deadline. I was the student that made sure I understood my theories and aced every test I took. I met all the page count and source count requirements. I even participated in social work club as much as I could. I thought of myself as a leader.
But now that I am in graduate classes and even working in the field of social work, I am learning that leadership is so much more than that. Leadership is an opportunity to facilitate empowerment and encouragement among colleagues to help them do their best (that was such a “social worky” statement wasn’t it?!). Yes, being a leader is a chance to “shine” and show what you can do, but it’s not to be done in a selfish fashion.
One thing that we do not always realize is that there are different types of leadership. Peters (2018) shares a few of these different types of leadership: organizational, relational, and individual. I’ll let you use your imagination on how each are different. Personally, in the field of social work (as a student and looking towards my future career) my role is to be a competent leader, with empathy and passion, that works to serve not only my future clients, but also my colleagues.
It is crucial that if you are going to be a leader, you need to be an effective leader. Otherwise, your efforts are just wasted. Being an effective leader may mean accepting constructive criticism from those around you, taking on projects/tasks that aren’t so thrilling, and recognizing when it is your time to step down. In this profession (and in the Christian community) we are working with other professions (other religions). We encounter them on a day-to-day basis (i.e. medical staff, counselors, psychiatrists, police officers, lawyers, etc.). The actions we take as leaders in our community make impressions on those we interact with.
Just as we are “judging” the other professions to make sure they are doing their jobs right, other professions are doing the same of us. We are always being watched and critically analyzed. That is just another reason why it is important to make our leadership sound and effective.
Personally, I believe that to be an effective leader, the leader must make sure they are taking care of themselves. Effective leaders, desiring to serve, cannot truly be effective if they have no energy, motivational, or will to serve. Simply put, you cannot pour from an empty cup. This is a field where compassion fatigue is easier to accomplish then self-care. Do you practice self-care? Wait, do you know what self-care is?
I would describe self-care as caring for yourself. Yes, it’s that simply. So much of our time as professionals and leaders in this chaotic life is dedicated to meeting the needs of others. We deal with messy, fragile situations that take a lot of energy out of us in order to be effective. So, how do we fix our decrease in energy? By doing something for ourselves. I like to go for a walk, play tennis, play my guitars, nap, read, eat, nap in a hammock, etc. I have a never-ending list… Now, it’s time for you to make your list of self-care practices. It’s important to have these tricks in a bag so when you need to pull them out they are right there. I may not always have time to take a nap, but I can sit in my car waiting to see my next client and read a chapter of my favorite book. Here is a self-care starter kit to help you build your list of tricks! Feel free to comment your results!
Almost coupled with self-care is the ability to assume positive intent and recognize where you are on the mood elevator. This is crucial to being a good leader for several reasons. First, have you ever received a text message from someone and immediately thought the sender was being rude? Me too. Almost everyday. Now, texting is not the best form of communication, however in this developing world, some clients may not even want to talk on the phone, thus scheduling with them is done via text. Email is similar to this. We cannot assume that the senders meaning behind the message was to be rude. This would be assuming negative intent. In other words, their intentions were not to come off like a stone-cold, hot-headed, ungrateful individual. This article explains a little more about positive intent.
Assuming positive intent is also important because as a leader we never want to come across as being offended. We never want to open the door for us to respond negatively either. Thus, recognizing where we fall on the mood elevator during these times is important. Check out the picture to the side. Let’s say you are a supervisor and you open up an email on a Monday morning from your newly hired social worker. You specifically hired this worker because you loved their positive attitude and how they always used exclamation points in their emails. This one did not. It also asked if you could privately meet with them. How do you respond?
You could get anxious because you don’t know what they want to talk to you about. You may even assume it is bad because of how the email was written. OR you can be optimistic and respond by saying, “Sure! Let me know when you are available this week!”
In my Professional Development class, we read an article about the five components of emotional intelligence. They are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Basically, having these five pieces put together will help you to be an effective leader in social work practice. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. We will not be able to “master” all of these components. And that’s okay!
Personally, I feel like I will struggle the most with self-awareness. It is not that I am self-aware, it’s that sometimes I am overly self-aware. I mean, to the point of being afraid I might offend someone if I make one little mistake. However, I know that as I continue on in my education I will learn how to cope with this challenge and be the best I can be for myself, clients, and colleagues.
So now you are probably thinking, okay so why are you sharing this on your faith-based blog? Because while this is for a social-work specific class, the implications can be applied to any profession. They are also very important to examine in our own faith walks. I purposefully made an effort to not mention Christianity, Biblical context, or Jesus as much as I could throughout the article because I wanted to challenge you to make those connections. If you want to have a discussion about it, I encourage you to comment!
It is important for MSW students (and anyone else) to be introduced to what leadership is because this is the point in our education where we really dive into the field of social work. It is no more generalist practice like we had in UG. The stakes are raised, more expectations are expected, and we are all being challenged into our own little unique leader-selves that will eventually go out and serve out communities and the world. Learning this now instead of during our first job after graduation will most likely get us the best first job after graduation because we will stand out in already being effective leaders.
While I enjoyed this class I took very much, just like anything else, improvements can be made. Throughout this course I was able to do a lot of self-assessments that helped me become more self-aware (hey, there’s that word again!). I was challenged in unique ways and inspired to be a better, effective leader. This course also touched on a variety of topics. However, it would have been really interesting to go more in-depth with all levels of social work (micro, mezzo, and macro) as well as spend more time looking at how to be a leader when working with other cultures.
The last thing I would like to share is a specific leadership model. This model is called the social change model of social work. Iachini, Cross, and Freedman (2015) find several values in three different categories that help social workers promote change. Individual values consist of consciousness of self (being aware of beliefs and strengths), congruence (aligning forms of communication), and commitment. In a group setting values are collaboration (working together to complete a task), common purpose, and controversy with civility (handling conflict well). Lastly, the one social value discussed is citizenship.
The things discussed in this post are specific things to help us better ourselves as leaders. Everyone every now and then needs to do a self-check. This is a great time to do that if you are already in a leadership position. If you are not in a leadership position but would like to be, this is a great way to start!
Iachini, A. L., Cross, T. P., & Freedman, D. A. (2015). Leadership in Social Work Education and the Social Change Model of Leadership. Social Work Education, 34(6), 650-665. doi:10.1080/02615479.2015.1025738
Peters, S. C. (2018). Defining social work leadership: a theoretical and conceptual review and analysis. Journal Of Social Work Practice, 32(1), 31-44. doi:10.1080/02650533.2017.1300877