Leadership Reflections Part 4 – December 28, 2001

From my Blog http://sonomabuzz.net/

Gerry La Londe-Berg, written December 28, 2001

Here are several lessons I’ve learned about leadership, supervision and management (three distinct things).

The very first lesson I recall learning about management came from a camp director when I was a sophomore in high school. Steve Noceti told me, “If you want to be a manager, you have to be willing to sweep the floor.” By this he meant, and I took, that if you want to lead people you have to be right there with them in their work. And the manager has to be the one who follows up and assures that everything is done, even the little details. I don’t still sweep the floors, but I have. I personally add, in my own thinking, that this should be done with humility and never with chagrin. I usually don’t even let people know that I was the one who looked out for the little details. Having them done just makes a nicer workplace.

A second key thought: I believe that the secret to success in a bureaucracy is “Hold Onto your Discretion.” I learned this from Robert Pruger at Berkeley. His description of life in the bureaucracy was very helpful. Each of us has a great deal of discretion and choice in our daily activity. Even within any set of rules and regulations, individuals perform the implementation, hence there is inherent discretion. Any good manager or supervisor values the quality of what we perform as individuals. If the individual produces quality, as it is defined in that setting, then the people leading the system (if they are smart) let the individual continue to perform with minimal interference. Therefore, by producing quality we increase our range of discretion.

In a well run bureaucracy, those who produce a quality product are promoted and/or listened to; our inputs into policy development are also respected (thus providing leadership in a sense). Adding our input into policy yet again increases our discretion by letting us shape our work environment.

In contrast, someone who is not doing well is questioned. They are monitored. Their range of discretion is limited. The poorer someone performs, then the more their supervisor tries to guide and direct them. They have lost discretion. As a supervisor, I explicitly described this to the people I supervised. I tried to let them know that I would allow them the maximum discretion it was in my authority to offer them as long as they performed well and attended to quality.

In our human services settings the quality is defined both by competence in our tasks as well as by compassion in performing them. I have found that clearly discussing goals, parameters and transgressions in an empathetic way has helped those I supervised bring out the best they could provide. I also think that respect and honesty play a huge role in all this. People respond well to high expectations. They also appreciate if someone helps them, and shows them, the areas that could be improved. The strategic use of both Individual Employee Conferences and group Staff Meetings allow multiple opportunities to create shared positive expectations.

For me a third key element I use is data. Empirical facts, gathered from the actual work processes and products stands up well to scrutiny. I track the things that are important, and, I share his data to those above me and to those below me in the system. Surprisingly, neither those above me, nor those below me ever gave me much feedback about the value of the data (this is as true in 2009 as it was in 2001). Maybe it’s just my way of looking at the world, but I like to know what is going on, and I like to be able to prove it. As a supervisor, I have found that I have to explain the data and put it in context for those around me. By doing so I am demonstrating leadership. I can also measure whether a particular strategy has borne results. I do rely on the data the system develops, but I study it carefully. I also keep my own set of data (cases carried, cases closed, outcomes, types of cases, etc) to track what I am interested in and capture some things that aren’t asked for.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply


Very helpful…data is very useful in these presentations and scrutiny. Even if it is imperfect, it provides some foundation or baseline to make decisions. Especially in the HR space, this is useful…I’d love to see more implementations like Google which keeps a lot of data on the measurements when hired in terms of point rankings and numerical yearly evaluations.

Gerry La Londe-Berg

I’m right there with you on the usefulness of data… It’s the human element that is the challenge. On the one hand those who pay attention to data can feel more confident in decisions if they have data to support and explain the action chosen. Nevertheless, I’ve noticed that there are many people, probably a majority, who may accept decisions based on data, but they don’t really trust them. Many people have a more emotional basis for their opinions. Sometimes they’ll tell you they differ, oftentimes they won’t. That’s no reason not to trust good facts, it’s just a significant factor to consider in leading people.