I’m a ‘Boss’,but I’m not ‘Bossy’: Leading with Authenticity and Servant Leadership

In my most recent article on leadership, I wrote about leadership in children. In this article, I’m focusing on leadership as it goes along with leadership style.

In 2015, I attended a training on Protective Factors. At one point during the 3-day training, the leader had us write a sentence about ourselves, where we said ‘I’m a (blank), but I’m not (blank)’. We then got into pairs to discuss what we had written.

I wrote ‘I’m a Boss, but I’m not Bossy’.

See, I have a bossy older sister. As the middle child, I have perceived myself as not being bossy due to the way that I direct and lead. I was bossed…..a LOT (she’s two years older than me, which makes me perfect boss age to her), so I tend to direct differently.

I told my friend, who is a leader in her role, about my statement about 6 months later; that I was a boss but not bossy.

She disagreed, pretty vehemently.

She perceives me as quite bossy, and has worked alongside me in multiple roles through our work. We have gotten to be close friends since we met six years ago.

She has observed me managing and organizing safety fairs, and recognizes the terse look I get on my face when things are not quite right. She has observed me when a disgruntled staff member attempted to usurp my leadership, and is in tune with my knee jerk irritation. I generally try to keep that irritation under wraps unless I find it useful to me.

Side note, after completing ’23 and Me’ to determine where my olive skin came from (I’m fairly recessive in my family with my dark skin where 3 out of 5 are blond and lighter skinned, I discovered that I am 93% Northern European, mostly Irish. Recognizing the Irish temper in me has probably helped me in some ways, and allowed me to show it a little more freely in others.

When I attended the Protective Factors training, I was working for a large not-for-profit agency. The management style there was different than any I had previously experienced.

Prior to working there, I had worked for two very small companies where I reported to the leader.

At the first location, we were a for-profit company where the founder held the title President, and the rest of us were either Supervisor (we had three master’s level supervisors at our largest, when there were 20 employees) or direct workers, who primarily held the roles of case manager. We usually had a master’s level therapist or two.

We had multiple programs, and I had multiple roles, during my almost 14 years with the company. Figuring out what programs to apply for next, integrating new grants into our current work, and getting the best out of the employees we had or would hire were a significant parts of my role during our supervision (management) meetings.

After leaving that company, I worked for a nearly 40 year old non-profit which had multiple funding sources. These included two Federal grants, contracts with the State of Indiana, local grants, as well as local donations and funding.

This agency had a long history in the community where I resided. It was board led, and the leadership team was the Executive Director, the Director of Programs (me), and the Director of Development. I worked for those two companies, both of which fell victim to the housing recession, for a combined total of 17 years.

The three of us at the non-profit brain-stormed in monthly management meetings about how to make our current programs better, what grants to apply for, how to get the best out of employees, participating in the community, and how to respond if we were to not be awarded one of the grants that we had.

In 2013, after just over two years of working there and being a great fit for that role and that leadership team, the company was not awarded a Federal grant which allowed us to provide a Pregnant and Parenting Teen program.

Following the loss of that grant and our flagship program, we merged with a much larger nonprofit which was housed in Marion County.

That agency has programs all over the central area of the state, but did not really have much involvement in Hamilton County, where Promising Futures, the non-profit, had been located. That agency is almost entirely funded by contracts with the State of Indiana, with a small portion being funded by corporate and local donations and United Way.

Hamilton County is a wealthy county, and in fact is one of the wealthiest in the nation, due to the average income level of people who live there. It is one of the most populous counties in Indiana, and is an anomaly for the state.

The perception in many surrounding communities is that people who live in Hamilton County don’t have problems, and that there are no people who have a lack of income in the county. This clearly was and is not the case. There are fewer known resources in Hamilton County, particularly considering the population, and they can be difficult to find.

Our merger with the large agency was complete as 2014 started. Staff had been informed and interviewed for positions with the new larger agency in August of 2013. The small non-profit had been informed that we officially had not been re-awarded the 5 year grant in the previous May. The grant would have renewed at the end of February, but due to sequestration had not been awarded to those who received it until early May. We had closed our group home and apartments at the end of March due to the lack of continued funding, with a plan to re-open if we were awarded funds once the decisions for funding had been announced.

In 2015, I would be the only remaining staff from Promising Futures to stay at the large agency, and I remained until 2018. Managing within a large agency was a much different experience than managing within a smaller one.

When I began working for the larger agency, my role changed. I worked alongside another Director within the same office who was over Prevention Programs, and another Director who was housed in Madison County (a local county with very different demographics than Hamilton County) who supervised Intervention Programs.

Instead of having a direct boss at my location, I had a Vice President to whom I reported, who then reported to the CEO.

Within a few months, I applied for and was hired to be the Director of Prevention Programs, which was housed in my same location. I applied partially due to my love for prevention, but also due to a fear of losing another Federal grant and thus my job security.

My responsibilities increased by about 70% at that time, which was fairly overwhelming. About four months later, the second Federal Grant that Promising Futures had held was not re-awarded to the larger agency.

For the first several months of Directing the Promising Futures and Prevention Programs, I reported to two different Vice Presidents, depending on the program.

These two individuals had very different management styles, and had different histories with the company.

After approximately 2 months, the Vice President who had a long history with the company, but not with the CEO, moved on to other opportunities. I was then managed by one VP for all programs that I supervised.

The large agency is over 100 years old, and the systems in place regarding bureaucracy were very clear to those familiar with them. Their bureaucratic system closely resembled how the programs under the State of Indiana (Department of Child Services) were organized and led.

I learned as I went, which is typical for my kinesthetic learning style, about how to work with separate people and departments for things like Accounting/Finance, Human Resources, Residential, Development, and other Community Based and Foster Care programs. The departments were led by other Vice Presidents, who all reported to the CEO, who had come on board at the beginning of 2013.

I learned, through the nearly five years that I was with the company, that a strict bureaucratic leadership style is not something that I had been familiar with prior to working there.

The small town of Tipton, Indiana where I grew up, is non-hierarchical, which fits with my leadership style and personality. I was shaped by my childhood experiences, spending years k-12 going to Tipton schools and I identify with the community as where I was raised.

I moved there from Hamilton County just before starting Kindergarten. Many people have lived in Tipton county for generations.

Tipton is historically a farm community. There were about 5-6 families that held/hold most of the farmland, which means that those families have a lot of feelings about land development.

Most 13-16 year olds who were living in Tipton in the early to mid 80’s worked in the corn fields over the summer and had spending money for the rest of the year if we budgeted for that.

As far as the income levels of my peers, there were factories in Kokomo, where many people in the community held employment. Many of my friends had teachers as parents, and Tipton County also housed Pioneer, which has historically been one of the leading corn/soy bean producing companies in the nation. Tipton has some of the best soil in the US, so de-tasseling corn correctly was very important, and we developed a teamwork ethic that I believe is part of the culture of the town.

With a high school of 650 total students in it, 150 in my class, and a city limit size of 5,000, you can imagine that fielding teams and school plays requires a lot of crossover skills. You want your teammate to help you have success, so we learned to build each other up and play to our potential from a young age. What we learned, growing up, was what is now known as Servant Leadership.

I spoke with a childhood friend of mine who is now a leader in her field and who also lives in Texas, about leadership styles and what she values.

She discussed Servant Leadership, a term I am familiar with but wanted to hear her take on. She discussed the importance of encouraging and motivating your employees to work for shared goals. She discussed wanting to get the best out of others, to achieve success. She talked about how it is about trust, and the important of leading from a ‘we’ perspective and not ‘I’.

She’s had a lot of success in her role, and has worked for over 20 years with her company. She discussed encouraging staff to feel like ideas are their own, and some tactics she has utilized in leading peers and those who do not directly report to her.

One of the things I learned from my experience at the large non-profit about my supervision style, is that others have some very different values in terms of how to lead and about communicating and delegating tasks. Working someplace with a very different history required me to learn new paths.

Supervision and Management

There are many different types and amounts of supervision and management styles that people need, and a one size fits all approach can make getting shared goals difficult to accomplish.

There are those who love to be told precisely what is expected of them, who are very de-motivated by and distracted by those who are less likely to want that type of direction.

There are people who experience the highest level of success with a framework of what is expected. Give them the framework of what is expected to be accomplished, including parameters, and they will thrive in their role as they determine what path is best.

People less inclined to follow specific rules may develop ‘work-arounds’. A difference in how people adhere to rules can be stressful to those who follow rules very specifically, as well as for those who are less inclined to do so.

I tend to call people who have thetendency to follow rules very specifically ‘rule-followers’. I tend to be more of a ‘parameter follower’. Tell me the parameters, and I will have success in my role.

We each have different tendencies and methods to our own successes, and managing and leading requires knowledge of what helps each of us be productive and learn so that we can achieve those shared goals.

When I think about leading, I think about those who are being led.

There are those who cooperate and encourage the achievement of shared goals, and those whose goals are not the same as their leader’s, or the agency’s, who sabotage and work against shared goals.

A leader in a non-leadership position can be a great asset, and someone who sabotages shared goals can be equally effective at causing chaos.

When a leader has the role of managing others and providing supervision, the level of importance of rules and requirements is affected. People require funds to pay their bills and make purchases, so the amount of emotions around following rules is different from situations where an exchange of funds is not part of the situation.

A personal rule I have as it pertains to leading in employment situations is that I do not threaten staff that if they do not cooperate, that they will not get paid. There are people in leadership positions with whom I have worked that used that tactic, and in my opinion the anxiety and fear that specific threat causes decreases staff’s effectiveness at tasks.

There are also labor laws which prevent employers from withholding pay except under very specific circumstances.

Leadership, when it includes management, involves helping things run smoothly, again to achieve shared goals.

An effective leader may manage directly, with a lot of initial instruction and explanation to prepare staff for their roles when someone starts a position. Some leaders manage by preparing and talking with staff about what is coming and what to expect, with the expectation that rules will be followed and to decrease interventions.

I tend to lead ‘from the back’. What this means is that I encourage those I am leading to accomplish our shared goals by setting parameters, explaining expectations, then letting them learn to work as I intervene when necessary. I establish a relationship of trust, and talk quite a bit in the beginning of the supervisory relationship about how I encourage their questions, and will monitor, explain, and correct to help them learn their role.

I work to assess strengths and weaknesses, to see which areas need more leadership and monitoring, and which areas are more of a strength for each employee.

I do a lot of training by peers, who do the role every day and can answer questions about repeated tasks easily.

I help those I lead understand what is expected, how to turn to each other for appropriate help, how to learn from staff who have had success in their roles, and I set up an expectation of success. I then monitor and am available for interventions through supervision, availability for questions, and other quality control depending on my role at the time.

In Conclusion

As you think about ways you want to lead, and things that are important to you in leadership, what do you think about?

As you think about those irritations from those who have led you in the past, whether it was someone you chose as your leader or someone whose leadership style is very different from yours, what can you learn from that.

A very good friend of mine once said to me ‘we can learn as much from being led poorly as we can from being led well’.

What can you learn, as you lead your children by parenting, lead others in your position of work or friendships, or as you are led? How can you encourage, from your position, success for shared goals?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: