Table of contents
- Leadership Development in Human Services
- The Context of my Personal Leadership Development
- Leadership Gaps and Developmental Opportunities
- Personal Leadership Development Plan
1. Areas for Development (Values/Skills) Actions/Strategies
3. Leverage Strengths
4. Feedback and Support
In the multifaceted field of social work, leadership competencies are necessary at all levels of the organization to uphold vision-mission, operate effectively, and survive. Yet, the importance of leadership has been generally overlooked in social work research, education programs, and professional practice (Regehr et al., 2002, (cited in Bernotavicz et al.). Several studies (Elpers & Westhuis, 2008; Preston, 2005) have demonstrated that a unifying leadership model associated with a well-defined set of leadership skills has not existed in the human services field. The struggle lies between the need for leadership and the professional preparation of leaders in a rapidly changing environment (Bernotavicz, McDaniel, Brittain & Dickinson, 2013). Social work leaders today face the greatest challenge of transforming and surviving amidst the persistent disruption and turbulence caused by social, cultural, political, and economic forces (ADD: Howieson, Hodges, & Ashcroft, 2014; Lawler, 2007). Leadership in social work often operates within the public welfare arena which is mainly dependent on the power of government policies and funding controls (Peach & Horner, 2007; Webster & McNabb, 2016 - Prezi). Consequently, social workers confront a ‘permanent whitewater’ situation, underpinned by neoliberalism, where there is increased privatization and contracting, competition for limited funding/resources, escalating caseloads, heightened performance and accountability, and decentralization of federal authority (Bernotavicz et al., 2013). This reality of contemporary social work practice requires a wider range of leadership and management skills. It is not sufficient to merely preserve an organization’s internal operations and sustain the status quo. Rather, it is vital to foster strategic leadership skills that adeptly assess and synchronize an organization’s internal processes and external conditions (Hopkins & Hyde, 2002; Weill, 2000). Empirical evidence shows that most leadership development efforts have positive impacts on social service organizations (Avolio et al., 2005 in Riggio, YEAR). Thus, recognizing the need for leadership development and capacity-building among social workers may lead them towards advancing personal leadership development to incite organizational systems to change (Brungardt, 1997).
Leadership Development in Human Services
Leadership development is one of the most contended aspects of the field of leadership. Are leaders born or made? Or put otherwise, is leadership intrinsic or learned? Many scholars of leadership argue that leaders are both, born and made. Several leaders possess traits and qualities that facilitate them to be effective leaders (Avolio & Hannah, YEAR; Brungardt, 1997). However, how does one develop to become a leader?
Brungardt (1997) analyzed an extensive range of leadership literature to understand how leaders are educated, trained, and developed. He asserted that most leadership theories/approaches only deal with a limited aspect of leadership which can be classified into five categories: traits (personal attributes/characteristics), behavioral (how leaders act or manage group performance), power-influence (how leaders relate and use power/influence strategically) and transformational (how leaders create a culture to invigorate organizations). While these approaches provide different perspectives on leadership, they fail to address the issue of leadership development and education. Notwithstanding such findings, the literature also demonstrates leadership development can be understood by examining one’s life experiences including early childhood/adolescent development, formal education, job experiences, and specialist leadership education/training. These are significant factors that nurture leadership skills and influence the development of one’s leadership capability.
Furthermore, Day (2000) contends that it is important to distinguish ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ development in the social work practice context. She states that most leadership research traditionally focuses on ‘leader’ development where an individual develops one’s leadership capacity through skills acquisition, self-awareness, and enthusiasm to lead. While ‘leadership development’ is more relational and collective where leaders and followers work together to increase the shared leadership capacity of the organization. Leadership development involves capacity-building for people to independently resolve unforeseen challenges or problems that result from the breakdown of conventional organizational structures and loss of sense-making (Dixon, 1993; Weick, 1993, cited in Day, 2000). Leadership, in this sense, is conceptualized as emergent from the existing social systems rather than added to the organization. Leadership transpires with the creation of ‘shared meaning’ – both in terms of adding value and sense-making (Day, 2000).
Hence, in this report, I will build on my leadership profile based on an integrative model that views the holistic personal development of a leader. I will critically reflect on my personal development as a leader and assess my current leadership capabilities by identifying certain gaps and potential developmental opportunities as a future social work professional. I will look into various ideas, life experiences, and personal circumstances that have shaped my leadership style as well as connect appropriate leadership models that are relevant to the context of my leadership development.
The Context of my Personal Leadership Development
Drawing on relevant theories of leadership in human services, I reflect on the context of my current state of leadership development. I particularly resonate with the following models of leadership: ethical, servant, and adaptive.
Ethical leadership refers to the moral goodness of leaders which highlights their values system in terms of making ethical decisions when personal values and struggles collide (Heifetz, 1994). As the eldest child of five in my family, I was considered the leader of my younger siblings. Growing up, I always reflected on my own values and principles when making decisions that affect my siblings and ensured that their best interests are served. My perspectives on morality are primarily influenced by my parents who taught me what’s right and wrong, fuelled further by my formal education in Psychology and some units in philosophy and ethics. I have always learned to treat everyone with dignity and respect, compassion, empathy, fairness, and honesty.
Along with this, I have also developed servant leadership or serving others to create a positive change for everybody’s welfare (Northouse, 2013). Being the eldest kid has instilled in me a sense of social responsibility where I greatly advocate for my family’s well-being. Knowing my family’s economic situation, I have always endeavored to become a breadwinner and supported my family through academic scholarships whilst being a student and through monetary provisions now that I am working. I was also profoundly involved as a student leader in various organizations in school/university or as a volunteer in humanitarian organizations like the Philippine Red Cross which further developed my desire to serve and empower others toward shared goals and better outcomes (Spears, 2002).
More recently, adaptive leadership is another style that I have developed. This has been mainly influenced by my work experiences where I learned to strike a delicate balance between employing technical (expert) and analytical (adaptive) problem-solving strategies as a leader (Heifetz, 1994). Being a Sourcing associate in recruitment and Marketing officer in an international education company taught me to be highly critical and responsive to change – analyzing the target market and quickly adapting business plans and engagements to meet the changing industry trends and client requirements. While being an Education Counsellor aided me in being more adaptable to diverse characters and adjusting to their needs suitably – providing them with sound advice on the school/university application and the fluctuating student visa application processes. Together, these job experiences taught me to be always flexible and adaptable to every circumstance – identifying available resources, harnessing energy, and crafting creative solutions to positively address organizational issues and opportunities (Howieson & Hodges, 2014). Creating a vision and directing change through innovation are the two most important aspects I have learned as an adaptive leader.
Leadership Gaps and Developmental Opportunities
Acknowledging the various leadership models related to the context of my leadership development, I believe that there are several developmental gaps and opportunities for improvement in my leadership. There is a strong need for me to develop a more shared/collaborative and transformational leadership approach as they deliver improved individual and collective leadership flexibility across various situations (Pearce & Conger, 2005; Riggio, 2008). The primary inspiration why I have chosen to further develop such skills is my placement organization, Mount Druitt Ethnics Communications Agency (MECA) – a community-based, non-profit organization that offers settlement services to new arrivals and refugee migrants from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. MECA is funded by Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian program headed by Settlement Services International (SSI). MECA faces limited funding and staff resources which yields high accountability concerns. Despite this, I am very amazed by how the manager is able to instill a shared vision and goal among her team and empower each staff as well as a student volunteer to practice shared leadership and lead their own designated program.
Transformational leadership involves instilling a system/culture of shared principles and empowerment for effective group performance (Fisher, 2009). It considers motivating factors beyond rewards and punishments by promoting inputs into local leadership, task delegation, responsibility, and decision-making (Arches, 1997, cited in Fisher, 2009). Exposure to interesting ideas and engaging with intellectual discourse are key factors that encourage transformational leadership (Bargal & Schmid, 1989, Fisher, 2009). On the other hand, shared/collaborative leadership is characterized by meaningful collaboration. It is a decentralized, systematic leadership approach that utilizes collective social processes and relevant skills among team members to achieve group goals and organizational values (Bolden, 2011).
Reflecting on these concepts on myself, I realized that while I encourage and empower people to develop shared values/goals, I tend to accomplish tasks independently. This might be because as the eldest child and the breadwinner of the family, I have always learned to depend on myself and be self-reliant. As a result, I tend to focus on my personal efficiency and ignore my team members’ efforts during the group process, especially for tasks under time pressure. Additionally, I also tend to be more outcome-focused rather the process-focused or team-focused with time-bound responsibilities which might affect my relationship with others as a leader. I am an ambivert, an introvert masquerading to be an extrovert. And so, engaging with various people is a tedious task for me as I am shy and timid inside. Hence, I need to learn more strategies on how to become more inclusive and collaborative when working with tasks involving a group of diverse individuals. I also need to learn how to inspire and influence others to cultivate a cooperative environment successfully. In the ever-changing environment of social work, it is evident that leadership is seen as ‘influence’ rather than ‘authority’. Thus, I endeavor to become more distributive, participative, and enabling as a leader contrary to being performing and directive.
Personal Leadership Development Plan
Below is an outline of my Personal Leadership Development Plan based on Lord and Hall’s (2005) theory which suggests that skillful leaders can develop their distinctive skills by grounding their personalities and leadership development in self-relevant, coherent, and authentic values.
- Goal: To continually ground and develop leadership identity and values towards a shared/collaborative and transformational leadership approach
- Timeframe: Ongoing throughout the second year of the degree, Master of Social Work – Qualifying
- Resources: Tutorials and workshops, group work, network/organizations, field education, placement supervision, peer support groups, work experience
1. Areas for Development (Values/Skills) Actions/Strategies
- Intellectual stimulation/Inspirational Motivation
- Idealized Influence
- Task Delegation/Responsibility
- Supportive Communication
Use strength-based and person-centered approaches in identifying other people’s skills; encourage them to utilize talents for others to increase confidence levels and build belief in a cause (Bass, 1985)
Engage with team members regularly and speak with them about goals and create new opportunities for development, if needed; Ask questions about their perspectives to promote motivation than giving answers
Use charisma, self-confidence, and enthusiasm to connect to people and draw them toward a shared vision/goal
Lead by example (role model) by accepting responsibility, being personally involved, and being passionate about organizational goals
Network and participate in several leadership organizations e.g. Golden Key Honour Society International to observe and draw lessons from ‘leader figures’ on how to influence and inspire others
Ask team member's perspectives about duties; Assign tasks according to team members’ strengths/weaknesses and train them to become better; Trust teammates to deliver results and support them to facilitate change
Communicate thoughts/feelings about interpersonal relations transparently and in a respectful manner; Listen actively and respond sensitively; Use positive phrasing when giving feedback
- Group mix and group dynamics Use previous training experiences in cultural competence to manage culturally diverse team members; Attend workshops on effective group management; Work with people from diverse backgrounds
- Time management Use tools and techniques for prioritization, scheduling, focus and concentration, goal-setting, and self-motivation
3. Leverage Strengths
- Strong theory/research knowledge and experience in human services Use background knowledge and expertise in Psychology and Social Work to understand diverse personalities and complex circumstances; Reflect on practical work experiences to effectively deal with
- Self-awareness, critical reflection, and synthesis
- Manage to learn through continuous introspection and self-assessment about one’s progress in relation to the ideal self
- Continuously think about the impacts of one’s experiences; Develop new learning agenda from it, try-out and practice new behaviors to identify what works and what doesn’t
4. Feedback and Support
Be open to criticism and feedback for continuous learning development; Seek advice/opinions from placement supervisors, teachers, friends/peers on the progress status of leadership development