5 Key Behaviors To Go From ResLife Supervisor to Leader: Personalize Your Supervisory Style

This is a five part series based on best practices for supervisors. Each of these principles on their own can achieve great leadership, but all five will ensure it.

We have all had that one boss that we’ve loved. The one that seemed to truly care about you, the person, as much as they cared about you, the employee. The boss who understood your needs and always tried to help you reach your goals. The one you felt lucky to work for. The one in fact that you felt you actually worked with, not for. For most of us, they are rare and hard to find, like a four-leaf clover in a 2-acre field. Truly. We all wish we could find more of them, supervisors that are actually leaders…so why not endeavor to become that kind of leader yourself?

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” —Warren Bennis.

Leadership is a skill. And it’s a skill you can learn. All it takes is flexibility, practice and humility. It also helps if you’ve had someone in your career to emulate. With that in mind, here are the five behavior changes you can make (or continue doing) to ensure your employees see you as a leader they want to work with rather than a boss they have to work for.

1. Personalize Your Supervisory Style
2. Communication is Key
3. Know Who Works For You
4. Acknowledge Their Work
5. Respect Their Expertise

Personalize Your Supervisory Style

As psychologist Daniel Goleman says “The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership – they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.”. It can be tempting to develop your leadership style for yourself. Leading in the way that makes you the most comfortable and in a way that you feel most confident. This would be fine if every employee you serve was a carbon copy of you. However, employees are like snowflakes; no two are exactly alike. Some people need a lot of autonomy to flourish while some crave guidance. Some people are big picture focused while others are detail oriented. Most people like to be praised for their work, but some may prefer public acknowledgement while others may prefer it be private.

Talk to all of your employees and find out their preferences, then alter your supervisory style to each person. A key aspect to ensuring that this strategy works is that you address your employees in whatever groups are appropriate to explain what you will be doing. You want to make sure they all understand that you are treating them equitably but possibly differently and that it is based on their preferences not yours. Also leave some room for change/acceptance. Not everyone knows how they need or want to be supervised, especially if they’ve never been given a voice in the workplace. It may take time for them to figure out how they work best. They may need to see your interactions with a coworker to realize which strategies would work for them.

The Challenge for Residence Life Professionals

There are two distinct challenges to this leadership principle. First, if you supervise professional staff, you likely have high turnover. Residence Life is built to have their professional staff for 2-3 years on average before they move on or up. This means readjusting to a new employee’s needs fairly often. That can make it even more appealing to have a set supervisory style, but resist! See each new RD, AC or GA as an opportunity to try something new and learn more about yourself and your skills.

Secondly, if you supervise paraprofessionals (RAs), not only do you have the challenge above, your employees are less likely to know what they need from a supervisor. For many of them this is their first “real” job and they have no idea how to succeed as an employee. They also have been on the lower side of most power dynamics and have not learned how to appropriately express their needs to a supervisor. This means that along with helping them develop as people in their late teens to early twenties, you will need to help teach them to figure out their work style and find their voice. This can be trying, but a small shift in perspective actually makes it rewarding. You will be setting these young employees up to have a successful and rewarding work experience regardless of the field they go into. And really, isn’t that half the reason all us softies got into res life to begin with?

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