5 Key Behaviors To Go From ResLife Supervisor to Leader: Respect Their Expertise

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.

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

The truth is that the higher you are in an organization; the less real world experience you have with the day to day workings of the job. While you are working your way up and focusing on more big-picture projects, things are changing. It can be anything from working in Student Engagement and the pop-culture preferences change to working in admissions and the language or modes of technology students use to communicate changes. You will likely have your hands too full to keep up with the most popular or most efficient ways to get the work done. But your employees will know. They are getting more face time with students and are watching things change from a more lateral space. 

It would be easy to keep doing what worked when you were in their place by giving them the “this is how we’ve always done it” adage, but you would be doing yourself, your staff and your students a disservice.  You can’t prioritize your comfort over their experience. 

You likely had one of two experiences when you were a new professional. Either your boss rejected your ideas and input making your job harder or they genuinely engaged in and utilized some of your feedback. So you either felt dismissed or valued. 

To be a good leader, you must be willing to learn from your employees and sincerely hear their feedback. You have to learn to truly respect their experience. This can definitely be easier said than done. There are a lot of emotions that go with the structure of a department. How you view hierarchies and respect can also play a factor in how willing to accept suggestions from your employees. For instance, if you come from a generation, a culture or even just a household where authority was not to be questioned, you may feel that your employees are trying to tell you how to run your building/department/division. You may view the act of letting others help make decisions as threatening or as showing weakness. In reality it take a lot of strength and courage to engage with your employees rather than managing them from a place of superiority. 

Another challenge can be perspective. If your employees give you suggestions that don’t fit into the big picture or that get vetoed by those above you, the perception can be that you’re just placating them. Try to be as transparent as possible and explain why you were unable to enact their suggestions. Also, make sure to enact any small positive changes you can that come from them, so they know that you are genuine in your respect for their knowledge and opinions. 

The Res Life Challenge

When you supervise RAs, it can be very difficult to take their feedback and/or utilize it. To begin with it’s likely that your staff outnumbers you significantly. Which can lead to an issue of groupthink. Secondly because RAs are in fact students, they can only have access to a portion of the information needed to run a department. This means that their ideas are often impractical without them knowing it. Finally, since most of them may never have had a job before this one, they may not understand the need for the administrative aspects of the job and their focus may be on having less procedure since they are viewing the job from a limited scope. In this situation, you want to be an educator. Explain the need for certain procedures to the best of your abilities and provide them with parameters for their feedback. There are always portions of the job that are completely internal where you have full autonomy. Allow them to help you restructure those aspects of the job as appropriate. Also let them come up with innovative ways to get the departmental goals completed. You never know when an RA is going to tap into a productive process that you never would have thought up.

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