This assignment is not a research assignment. The task requires you to interview (20-30 minutes) a social worker or human services worker in a leadership position to gain some insights into some of the more practical elements of leadership in a SW or human services professional context
One of the students in a previous Leadership class offered the following interview questions as a guide:
Uniting Care Australia is one of the social work organizations that operate within Australia with special focus on giving a voice to the most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged people in the society. Being a Christian based organization, they uphold values of integrity, justice and fairness. The organization has a leadership culture that enables the employees and the volunteers in the organization to build and grow their leadership skills in various capacities (Unitingcare Health Provisions Workstation on Wheels (Cover Story), 2014). Following an interview with one of the senior official of the organization has values and cultures that foster effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of the social services that they offer. This report entails the findings of the interview and further elaborates on the leadership structure of the organization as well as the leadership challenges.
The organization has developed a culture of open communication among the employees and the leaders across all levels. The most dominant leadership style used in the company is participative leadership which makes communication within the organization easy and also ensures that the views of all the employees and volunteers are taken into account (Suk, Kihwan, & Seung-Wan, 2017). Since the organization attracts a large number of employees who according to my correspondent are energetic, enthusiastic and more than ready to help in the achievement of the objectives of the organization’s goals and objective, it provides adequate opportunity to nurture leadership skills in the volunteers. A number of the volunteers later become the employees of the organization who are entrusted with leadership responsibilities in various capacities within the organization. The entity therefore provides both the employees and the volunteers an opportunity for both profession and leadership growth (Lebredo,2018). As the volunteer takes the roles of an employee in the organization, he or she is aware of the leadership culture in the organization and making it easy to practice the culture in ant leadership position that the organization has given to them.
Organizational Culture and Values
Organizational culture is a term used to refer to the deeply ingrained patterns and trends in beliefs and values shared by an organization’s staff, the organizational behavior, assumptions and ideologies that those working within the organization hold. As contended in Beltrán, Hacker & Begun (2016) the organizational culture at UnitingCare Australia is built on the belief in compassion. The culture of the organization borrows a lot from the Uniting Church with which they share values. The belief is in a society that advocates social justice for all and especially the disadvantaged, the poor, the old, people with disability and indigenous people. As captured by Sturm, Hinden & Teegarden (2011), the organizational behavior is modeled by the belief in social justice and the struggle to help all people to live life to its fullest. The assumption of workers and volunteers working with the group is that all persons deserve the very best in life. This has informed the organizations history of advocacy. The belief that they have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable is what shapes their organizational behavior at UnitingCare as in Beltrán, Hacker & Begun (2016), moving them to seek better health and wellbeing for the vulnerable and respect and justice for all.
Strategic Goals of the Organization
Like most organizations working on social welfare improvement, UnitingCare generally has the mandate of seeking the betterment of quality of life for all persons but especially those who are at risk of being marginalized in the society. This section takes a look at the specific strategic goals of the organization as exemplified in their activities and programs.
Child Social Exclusion
UnitingCare focuses its lens on the marginalized children of Australia. It envisages the multi-faceted nature of social exclusion in many Australian communities as exhibited in the high number of disadvantaged children (Browne, Keefe, Ruth, & Marshall, 2017). The organization targets to tackle the 5 main components of child exclusion in the society: education, homelessness, health, connectedness and socioeconomic status alongside 16 other key indicators of child welfare in the country. The organization objectifies the reduction of child poverty to bring as many children to live above the median equalized disposable income for the average Australian household. In one of its latest surveys in 2016, the organization found that the highest population of children at risk of exclusion is found in the Northern Territory which stands at 43.1% followed Tasmania at 34% while South Australia comes in third at 26% (Browne, Keefe, Ruth, Cox, Maramaldi, Rishel, Marshall, 2017). The following are some of the singular strategic objectives of the organization.
UnitingCare is strategically working together with the Australian commonwealth government and state authorities together with UnitingCare service providers in creating employment opportunities as contended by Levy, Aiton, Doig, Dow, Brown, Hunter, & McNeil (2016), based on values for the betterment of the lives of the vulnerable population groups in the community. In its model, the organization employs methods aimed at training persons, mentoring and providing support to them in community service activities within the organization. The initiative is aimed at bringing in people who have not been in gainful employment for any reasonable period. As espoused by Hee Chul Kim (2017), the organization is strategic in its approach of creating employment opportunities for the economically marginalized through community support projects. These employment opportunities are designed to attract persons with the necessary values and beliefs to prepare them for work opportunities in the community services.
Impact on the Interviewee’s Leadership Practice
The organizational culture of UnitingCare has had significant impacts on Jenny’s leadership practices. Coming from a health practitioner’s background (nursing), her scholarly interactions had not adequately prepared her for a career in social work although she evidently had the desire and the passion to serve humanity. Her interactions with the organizational values have over time strengthened her resolve to pursue redress to social injustices and inequality in the society. Schein (2011) asserts the above observation in his submission that organizational culture influences organizational behavior. Her leadership philosophy significantly marries with the organizational values and strategic goals. Jenny prefers the participative (democratic) leadership approach which as characterized by Darling (2017), allows her to listen to the ideas of those that report to her. Over time, Jenny’s leadership practice has consistently given a listening ear to the issues that bedevil the marginalized persons and persons at risk of marginalization in Australia. The strategic objective of the organization have influenced Jenny’s leadership practice in one significant way; her incorporation of personal reflection into leadership. Thanks to taking time to conduct personal reflection as in Schulte (2010), Jenny as a leader has been able to conduct personal assessments on how the organization is faring in marrying organizational values with the strategic objectives. This has enabled her to identify areas that need correction and hence made her a more effective leader.
The success and effectiveness of any organization lies on the leadership styles being used. According to Webb (2011), leadership styles will either retain or lose employees who have great potential for the success of the organization. In UnitingCare Jenny (pseudonym) from the executive management team is entrusted with a group of over 3000 volunteers, 8523 workers and 416 branches spread across the state of Queensland. Working with such a team, requires Jenny to employ a method of leadership that will suit all the members of the organization. Failure to use an effective method will definitely lead to lose of potential employees and leaders who may better the standards of the organization in the future.
As an organization, UnitingCare encourage use of participatory leadership according to Kezar (2016) which allows workers to make proposals and suggestions. These suggestions are considered in leadership meetings and some of them are implemented hence better the lives of those working with the organization and even those they serve. This has helped them over the last decade to maintain most of their high profile employees who have turned out to bring about major milestones in the organizations development.
According to Abdullah (2017), UnitingCare considers sharing of responsibilities, knowledge and delegation of duties as factors that bring cohesion. Therefore Jenny delegates duties to any of the workers and this has always turned out to be one of the factors that has helped them improve their standards. This form of leadership has always seen their promotion of employees to higher offices based on merit and honesty. Since they scrutinize each and every individual and partially allow employees to take part. This has further reduced complains and complications in the organization hence leading to appropriate and effective services.
Jenny reports that she finds it very interesting to work with an enthusiastic team of employees and volunteers. This people are willing at all the time to sacrifice their personal ambitions to create adequate time to serve in the organization with or without remuneration. Most of their employees including Jenny served a long time as volunteers before the actual employment. The working force is also collaborative hence, Jenny finds it easier to work with the high number of individuals she is entrusted with. Core values established by the organization such as compassion demonstrate understanding and empathy for others to bring holistic hope, inspiration and care. Sommer and Frishman (2016) denote that justice should seek to serve all the people without discrimination regardless of status, age. Gender, tribe and race have helped to see the organization grow. Respect has enabled the members to embrace diversity and accept the contribution of others.
Bhatnagar (2017) contends effective leadership in an organization demands an all-round individual. A leader should have clinical background, business expertise and financial literacy. Budgeting is one of the major tasks those in leadership will have to undertake. Jenny had a clinical training background this was not sufficient for her to serve as an executive team member hence she had to acquire a master’s degree in business administration to enable her effectively handle the tasks of the organization. This means that those who will be promoted to leadership positions should possess a wider scope of knowledge so as to be able to deal with people and handle finances without major scratches and loses.
Each leader must cultivate an appreciation for the needs of the organization so as to be able to lead effectively and minimize major challenges. Transparency in the area of finance should never be left out. Actual budgeting must be done with an aim of allocating funds to each area without surplus or shortage since this might act as a highway to embezzlement (Christensen and Cheney 2015). Prioritization of needs and wants should be determined early in advance to so as to give appropriate attention to the primary needs before attending to the secondary needs of the organization.
Remuneration of employees should be done in correct amounts and regularly without delays as connoted by the contracts (Ataay 2018). This helps to focus the attention of the employees to only one task which is working for the organization rather than looking for means to get money to sustain their needs. Appreciations on tasks well done should also be done to motivate the workers. Annual increment of salaries can be employed even if its at a low percentage, it will motivate employees and keep them longer in the organization.
Clear rules and regulations should be established in each department to ensure the employees are aware of the does and the don’ts of the organization. Appropriate consequences of breaking the rules and regulations should be attached to the rules so as to regulate behavior of persons (Ribeiro and Hamel, 2015). Proper sanctions should be issued according to the offences and should be done fairly without showing favoritism regardless of who has committed the offence.
Jenny is a key member of the executive management team of the organization. She is part of the discussion making and policy making body runs the organization. She therefore interacts with key stake holders in different capacities (Palmieri, & Mazzali-Lurati, 2016). Some of the stake holders that she has to work with include the management of the organization, the employees of the organization and the volunteers. Since her role is majorly management, she rarely interacts with the people that the organization serves. However in some occasions she takes time to make follow ups on the delivery of the services that the organization offers. Her interaction with the workers and employees she leads is opens interaction ad she embraces and practices participative leadership style. She is open to ideas irrespective of the sauce of the idea within the organization.
Chief Executive Officer who heads the executive team heads UnitingCare Australia. The Executive team is composed of Directors, Chief Officers and Executive members. Below the executive team are the various committees. The key values of the organization are compassions, Respect and justice. The correspondence sits in the Executive committee and there she is considered one of the senior members of the organization. Given this leadership position, she has to lead by examples by practicing the key values of the organization (Gehman, Treviño & Garud, 2013). She is an advocate of justice and compression to the less fortunate and a firm believer in the respect of all people across all boards. This is evident from her leadership style that makes her open to even the volunteers in the organization elaborates her respect for even the most junior staff in the organization despite the senior position that she holds.
When Jenny first got to the senior position that she holds today in the organization, she only had clinical skills. Her roles required knowledge in management, regulatory and financial control. She had to perform these roles despite the knowledge and practical experience gap that existed. Furthermore, she had to face the stereotypes related to gender and perceived inequities that come with women leadership (Potkay & Merrens, 2015). However, she was able to come up strong against the challenges. She first enrolled for Masters in Business Administrations and sharpened on the leadership qualities that she already had (Peters, 2017). With this knowledge and experience, she is now able to play her roles with confidence and efficiency. Given the organization culture, she got a perfect platform to give the leadership contribution inters of policy and decision making.
Organizations have different leadership cultures and structures. Even though organizations that focus on social work may have similarities, Uniting Care Australia has unique leadership cultures that enable the employees and the volunteers to flourish. The interactive leadership structure enables open communication in the organization and ensures that everyone’s’ opinion counts. From the interview, it is evident that the leadership of the organization has its share of challenges. However, the correspondent has devices successful ways of dealing with her leadership challenges. Some of the methods used to overcome the leadership challenges include, further education and sharpening of the leadership skills.
Q. Describe your current leadership roles and responsibilities. Are you on any Committees or responsible for developing policy – leadership at the organizational level?
A.I am on the leadership executive committee which is mandated with the development of the policies that govern the operations of the organization.
Q. How many direct reports/employees are you responsible for?
A.I am responsible for over 3,000 volunteers and 8523 workers spread across 416 branches that I am responsible for in the state.
Q. Do you find it rewarding to lead/manage team members?
A.I find it interesting to work with a group of young enthusiastic and energetic volunteers who are more than willing to contribute to the objectives of the organization. The working force is also collaborative and I tend to think all of them are leaders which makes my work easy.
Q. How would you describe ‘effective’ leadership in Social Work or human services organization?
A.Effective leadership in social work entails upholding the key values of social work which include integrity, good human relationships and social justice.
Q. Do you think you are an effective leader? If so, why? If not, why not.
A.Yes, I believe I am an effective leader and that is why the organization had entrusted me with such a massive responsibility of taking case of a large number of employees and volunteers.
Q. What leadership challenges have you faced as a leader in this organization? If they can’t think of any – ask them to talk about any leadership challenges they faced in a previous position.
A.Organizations that do social work face a number of challengers which have to be shouldered by the leadership, employees and volunteers. Some of the challenges include budgetary constraints, genders iniquities and stereotypes. Additionally, When I joined the organization, I had limited exposure to regulatory issues, financial management and legal matters and yet I was in a leadership position that required me to oversee operations in these areas.
Q. What strategies did you use to overcome these challenges?
A.I enrolled for an MBA and then a post graduate diploma in Business Management in order to fill knowledge gaps that existed by then.
Q. What is your preferred leadership style (If they are not sure what you mean by this question– describe the SLII Model 4 leadership styles: Directive, Coaching, Supporting and Delegating. Perhaps take a print out of the slide to help you explain the 4 styles to them)
A.I believe in Participatory Leadership. Since I work with a large group of employees and volunteers, it is vital to make everyone’s idea to count. It enhances fairness, honesty, creativity, competence and integrity. I would also not want to keep my juniors to fear me.
Q. Is their preferred leadership style – or their leadership philosophy – consistent with the leadership culture of their employer organization? If yes, please ask them to describe the ways in which they are consistent. If the answer is no, ask them to explain why – and talk about consequences this might have in their day-to-day leadership practice.
A.Yes, in order to meet our objectives and core values, we have to work as a united team right from the CEO to the most junior person in the organization.
Q. Do they have any advice for you as a social worker or human services professional about to commence practice?
A.If you are doing social work, then you know that your job touches directly to the lives of the human being. In most cases, we work with people who are less privileged in the society. It is therefore paramount that we carry out our responsibilities with diligence and uttermost commitment.
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