Want to bring out the best in others??

Some Ideas for Motivating Staff….and Working to Avoid the Dreaded De-Motivators

I began supervising staff soon after my 28th birthday, 11 months after giving birth to twin boys.

Fast forward 21 years, and I have supervised a generation (20 years) of primarily 20 somethings.

Here are some things I have learned along the way:

I really enjoy motivating others. I’m also ridiculously empathetic and in tune with others feelings.

When I got promoted from a peer of many to a supervisor of 2, I quickly discovered that those two aspects of me were both my biggest strengths and biggest challenge makers.

Being a kinesthetic learning who learned by doing, who is not risk averse, I made and continue to make some mistakes and continue to learn as I go.

It’s the only way I know how to do things. (Insert Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown plug here, I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t. Seriously, life changing)

a pic from a trip to Hawaii. I fell asleep for a lot of it because I was very tired. 2018

I quickly learned that someone who has more confidence in prioritizing how to take care of themselves and monitor their stress levels reacts differently to stress than someone who puts less of a priority on that.

We were brought up to take care of ourselves.

“You’re the only one whose priority is taking care of you”

“No one cares about your needs as much as you do, so I suggest you get them met”

“You’re going to have to learn to like grocery shopping, laundry, every day tasks. You have to do them anyway so you might as well learn to like them.”

Ok, that learn to like every tasks piece of advice one did not take at all, but the first two are part of my childhood ‘script’ which I quickly remember in times of stress.

It’s where my self talk goes, and I have learned that not everyone shares that sense of self that I was able to have supported and nurtured through some of my childhood experiences.

photoby tdp: a boy who loves cause an effectSupervision


I started supervising people when I was 28 years old. I had 11 month old twins at home, and frankly, was pretty overwhelmed with my life.

One thing that has always been my strength as an in-home mental health therapist/home based case worker (a person who works with families at risk for abuse and neglect), is my ability to succeed in my own role.

Establishing rapport comes fairly easily for me.

I complete my paperwork pretty much on time, I am able to get along with my co-workers and I encourage others’ success.

This is especially true for getting along with peers and those who perceive themelves as having less experience or skills than me in this area.

Having 2 small children at home who are twins also made getting done for the day prior to their daycare closing a priority.

As a 22 year old, straights out of college graduate student, I took all of the Supervision Courses that were offered in my program at the University of Cincinnati.

I love group dynamics, and am quick to share my opinion once I feel a little comfort in my role. I signed up for the group classes, the family therapy classes, and never quite worked in the school counseling double major that I intended to get.

Iam excited when I get to supervise staff.

I would say that my supervision style started in my formative skills as a lifeguard.

I practiced my sitting skills, observing others without intervening when possible(sitting in the sun is much hotter with a coat of chlorine on you), and I learned what an emergency is.

I can describe the 3–4 times I truly felt concern for a child’s safety and jumped into the water to save them. Lifeguards are taught to recognize and avoid panic, both in ourselves and in the people we are working to save, and the fact that a drowning person will take you with them was drilled into our instruction from the very start. That start for me, after beginning babysitting some of my parents friends’ children at 12, was at 15 years old.

I have a memory of sitting in the baby pool and picking up a sputtering baby, stepping down with my overly long legs from teh life guard stand and pulling a child to the side, and the very chilly day I had to get all of the way in because the child was too far to reach from teh side of the pool.

Incidentally, each time the parents were there, attempting to watch their children, and just were less in tune to watching for a sputtering, beginning to panic child who was not able to ‘touch bottom’.

I began my super power of observing others in formative years at length. This is something else I like to do anyway. Put me in an airport and that book usually sits on my lap as I listen to parents interact with each other, their children, etc.

I enjoy talking with others, and looked forward to expanding my role beyond working with families directly.

The process of learning to lead takes more than being able to do the job effectively ourselves.

When I think back to my successful supervisory relationships, I think of connections that I have had which have been the most successful among co-workers whom I supervised.

I also think about those who have been successful in supervising and parenting me.

The fact that I listen with my ears, my energy, to body language, and to pace of speech can make it hard to get a story out, particulary when a newer staff perceives their story as one that is an emergency.

Listen to your gut was something I learned on Oprah during an afternoon home with my 1 year olds.

I can remember stopping the folding I was doing as she talked with an expert on perceiving danger. He encouraged everyone listening to teach their children to listen to that gut feelings we have when interacting with people.

If a child fears the person and they are scared, help them learn to listen to that feeling in their stomach and to tell a trusted adult.

My role, as a supervisor, is to be that trusted adult.

My role, as a parent, supervisor, and person of integrity, is to establish trusting relationships where a staff can tell me:

I think I messed up.

I am afraid I am missing something.

I left their house, and I cannot stop thinking about them.

I couldn’t sleep last night becuase I was concerned, but wanted to tell you to get your thoughts.

Let me borrow your brain is a phrase spoken around me, by me, and to me. Let’s put two heads, or three, or four, to talk this through to figvure out:

Is this a me issue?

Am I triggered with nervous feelings due to some issues I have going on like lack of sleep, hatred of clutter, boundary struggles, etc?

Does this guy give you the creeps and she seems afraid? She will only talk when he isn’t there or is sleeping and keeps staring at the door?

Get him on board. That is the trusting relationships we want to foster in our workers. That is the trusting relationships we want to foster between staff.

One day, one of my strong staff came to me and told me about some things being said amont peers that appeared to be a real health concern.

As a supervisor, I want to know all of that.

I want to say good job, here’s waht you did right.

I want to say, I can see what made you do those things, let’s talk about next time.

I want to say, we need to call this in. Right now. this is a safety risk and I’m really glad you called me even though I was in the middle of something else.

I also want to say, here’s what made this a good decision.

In 20 years, sometimes I have had to say if all of these things are true about your work performance, you can no longer work here.

It hurts my heart, but not every job is right for every person.

My wish for staff to succeed has been at a level where one staff who was not able to continue to work under me called me a few days later and apologize for putting me in a position wehre I had to terminate her emplyment.

Clearly, that isn’t that norm, but that to me is a signt that the trusting relaitonship we had, even through some particularly poor performance and unacceptable work actions, prevailed.

I’m a listener. I’m a squinter when I”m thinking, and now that my focusing skills are affecting my eyes, when I can’t see.

Now let’s get into some stories.

When I think about all of that, I think about support.

Example 1

I think about one of my favorite staff, who was initially interviewing for a part time job in addition to her current full time job, but had read on the website while she was waiting for her interview to start about a full-time opportunity. This opportunity had occured that day, after an employee had resigned and also after we had had scheduled the interview. She has Flexibility

She rapidly changed her plan and decided to go for the posted job and discussed that with me. She is a go-getter, and is a great fit for me as a leader. She looks for opportunities, and my role, as her direct supervisor, was to direct that energy into ways that benefited her and the program she had been hired to run.

As a 22-year-old, fresh out of college professional, she even then was a driven-to-succeed woman. She likes to have success.

Example 2

This staf has aspirations to continue to improve the quality of her work. She has confidence in her social skills, and an interest in both her own growth and becoming a therapist.

My role with her has been to support her questioning the quality of both her own work and the practices the agency I worked for at the time had, and I have been able to watch her grow as a mother, a future therapist, and a budding leader.

Also, I really like her, which can be hard when you are also supervising someone who is not quite as good of a fit professionally.

We don’t like all people at the same level. Some people we like more than others, because we’re people and not machines. She has confidence and really good success with rapport.

Examples 3 and 4

Not too long ago, I had a really high energy staff who not only established rapport with clients really easily, but also had an urge to grow and move up in her role.

She has leadership potential and great people skills. Actually, I had two of those at the same time, one with high energy and one whose energy is naturally much lower, and calming.

My role with both of them has been to encourage them to use those people skills and to sometimes temper their ambition with some of the ‘softer‘ skills that go along with being a professional.

I have the advantage of living several years, and they have the advantage of having lots of energy and being young.

I have a great relationship with each of them that allows them to recognize their strengths and I am able to be supportive when it has been time for them to move to higher paying positions with more income potential, and that is what they did.

Before each did that, they said some nice things about me in a card they gave me because we get along so well. I love a kindly worded card, and I still have both of those, as well as many other thank you notes I have received along the years. They go in a drawer and get shifted around, but they always make the cut.

Again, sometimes similarities are an advantage. In leadership, they can also be a complication. We can’t show favoritism even when we have favorite people in different roles.

a picture of a child when he was about 8, cute, and as always, very strong willed. Has the same last name as me, as well.

Examples Summary

We all like success.

Above, I have included a successful photo experience with my son. What isn’t pictures is the encouragement to get a good picture of a very strong willed 8 year old of a mom who documented EVERYTHING.

If I don’t take a picture of it, it didn’t happen are words I have used to get the little guys I began supervising in 1997. Same example, different subject matter.

Trusting relationships are not born, they are reinforced, time and time again in times of stress, success, and through resignation.

What I want from each of my staff is the best they can give me at that time.

Learning from My Leaders and Peers

Example 1

Two other relationships that have really helped me grow as a leader are people whom I did not lead.

The Executive Director, when I was with a small agency named Promising Futures, believed in me and encouraged my learning in ways for which I had not realized I was ready.

We worked hand in hand to help a struggling, 40 year old not-for-profit agency with really good intentions make it through the recession, and the support I received in that leadership relationship will always affect how I lead in the future.

We work well together and have several different strengths. My strengths are different from hers, and we respect the need for both.

Example 2

At that same agency, I worked with a peer who was in charge of development.

Development, in the not for profit world, means bringing in donors and fundraising, and helping the agency receive funds from people who have them.

She had a fairly long history of working with the agency compared to me, and was really good at things I had absolutely no experience with at all.

In fact, the skills she is best at are those which I had relatively no experience with and not much confidence in my skills about.

I was also pretty confident I was good at other things. The calls me a ‘program person’, which I embrace and appreciate.

The confidence we have in our own skills can be very important in supporting people who have different skills than we each have ourselves.

Her marketing skills, her willingness to organize a massive fundraiser while making the planning fun for her committee, and her willingness to convey what she was doing as she did it helped me develop skills I would not have been exposed to in other settings.

Summary of Being Led Examples

The three of us are very different in terms of our skills, and have complete faith in each other, both in our abilities to do well, and in those abilities that are harder for each of us.

As in most relationships, I did not realize the value of what I had until our agency was absorbed into a much bigger one after not being granted a large federal grant. I remained with the agency, and the two of them did not.

Leading with Strengths

In 2012, I went to a training that was very meaningful to me.

It was led by Elizabeth (Beth) Skidmore, who is a trainer in the field in which I work, and one of my favorite thinkers to whom I have been exposed. She discusses that there are 2 types of leaders.

  • There are those who were inspired to lead, and learned the role of what they are leading to be able to lead effectively
  • There are those who have had success at their own role and became leaders due to their success in their own roles.

I identify with the second group.

Learning to lead others, as opposed to being driven to obtain schooling and employment to lead well, has been an on-going process for me.

I have had to learn to be intentional about it, or in other words do it on purpose.

One of the first lessons I learned was learning to delegate clearly and effectively.

Learning to support others and focus on strengths is just part of my DNA. I’m going to focus on someone’s strengths just because that’s what I do, but clearly stating weaknesses is much more difficult for me. http://linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-skidmore-06a4537 Relevant info: we’re all different

Some Fun Facts:

My parents are both musicians who have made their living both in music education and in getting paid for performing and directing music.

They are in their low 70’s, and continue to be creative in finding people who want to pay them.

This is actually a good thing, because they only know how to be creative.

Specifically, that’s my dad. He and I share a love of listening to a directive, working to identify the pertinent parts about following rules, and then create within our boundaries.

My mom refers to herself as a right brained musician. She is linear (as opposed to circular, or random) and loves to balance a checkbook.

I did not get that feature, fyi. I call people with that start to finish tendency ‘very left to right’.

What they both really like to do is perform and help others perform well, so they figured out a way to make money doing that.

Everyone is “playing a role” when you are a musician/expert musical performer, so that’s how I was raised.

I can’t help some of the ways I am, but that one was affected by nurture. ‘What role is she paying?’ got asked a lot in my house as we talked around the dinner table.

In Conclusion

We all have natural tendencies to what we do well, what we like to do, and what motivates us.

I have a tendency to see the best in people, so I have to work to see their areas for growth, or what some people call weaknesses.

Being specific and intentional about working to improve on areas that do not come naturally is harder for me than it is for some others.

Some are blessed with an ability to spot what is wrong, to think critically, and to immediately start problem solving for ‘worst case scenario’. This is both a wiring issue and a nurturing issue.

I encourage all who read this to think about how they are intentional with their praise and goal setting, both in their self talk and in talking with those around you.

Think about what your goal is as you convey a criticism, compliment, lack of comment, and fun banter.

For those whose super-power is spotting weaknesses rather strengths, how are you intentional about re-framing those comments that leap to your mind to be heard as future oriented opportunities for growth?

How can you readers who see the sunshine through the clouds be intentional about communicating clearly your expectations, including timelines.

These expectations are for those who manage you, those you manage (even the short, growing variety) and yourself.

How we talk to ourselves can be a pretty good indicator about how others hear us.

Knowing what motivates us, being able to say that clearly and effectively and continuing to look for opportunities to grow and learn helps all of us, regardless of employment status, parental status, or age.

People tend to do better when they are told they are doing well, unless they do better when they are told how they need to improve.

I guess we’re all just different. Who knew?? thanks for reading :)

We live a long time, let’s make the most of it.