5 Key Behaviors To Go From ResLife Supervisor to Leader: Know Who Works For You

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. Coming Soon
5. Coming Soon

Know Who Works For You

It is extremely important that you get to know your employees. This goes beyond knowing their name and favorite color. By better knowing and understanding your employees, you will be better able to adjust your supervision to fit their needs and to achieve your goals together, it will allow you to be more understanding and responsive, and overall it will make the supervisory relationship one that is mutually beneficial.

Make an effort to learn about each of your employees on a personal level, within their comfort zone. As you go about some of these strategies, always remember that these are optional. You won’t gain genuine information if the other person feels forced to share.

One more formal strategy may be to set up entrance surveys or create bi-annual check in surveys to gain information and check-in with your employees. You can also incorporate more organic ways of getting to know the people that work for you. You can utilize personal check-ins as part of your one-on-one meetings. You can arrange social gatherings both inside and outside of working hours to encourage more relaxed conversational flow. You can start a brown bag lunch program in which you and a small number of employees have lunch together.

Getting to know your employees also means learning about your employees’ identities. This not only helps you learn about them, but it is also a good way to recognize if your organization or department is diverse. For example, if you find that most people in your department have the same cultural, religious and economic, identities you may want to consider why that is and if it is serving them or the organization well. If you find that you have a diverse group of people working for you, the next step is making sure your office is inclusive. This means that in addition to becoming educated about your employee’s identities, you can learn about potential support or accommodations they may need.

While all these steps are simple, they may not be easy. Not every employee is going to feel comfortable sharing about themselves. They may have worked in toxic environments where any information they shared about themselves would be used against them. Or, they may simply feel that they prefer to have a strong separation between their personal and professional lives. Regardless of the reason an employee may not want to share about themselves, respecting that choice will likely strengthen your relationship with them. 

The Challenge for Residence Life Professionals

It can be easy for those of us that work in Residence Life to feel as though we know our employees better than most. I mean, just look at all those icebreakers we do! While it is true that we may know more facts about our employees, especially our RAs, we have to remember that most of that is surface-level information. We need to find other ways to learn about our staffs just as much as professionals in other industries. Residence life professionals do have a unique ability to get to know our employees since we live where they do and we see how they handle a large variety if situations. This can be a strength of our field, but be careful to not take it for granted. Intentional attempts to get to know and understand our staff members are integral to creating environments where all can succeed.

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