|Number of years in management: 5 years
Tell us about your path to management:
Prior to obtaining my MSW I worked in the field of child welfare in both supervisory positions and program management positions. After continuing my education, I became focused on program development and was able to start a campus support program for students from foster care at the University of Washington. Then in 2012, I was accepted to take on the role as Director of Outreach for the Center for Fostering Success at Western Michigan University. That was my first real manager role as I oversaw the division of outreach and training. I would say that my pathway was paved with experience in program development and supervisor roles for small groups of graduate students, which has led to the larger purview I have today.
What leadership qualities do you find to be most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals?
I would say that servant leadership encapsulates good leadership. It’s about capturing a vision and working alongside my team. I believe that strong leaders spend a lot of time self-reflecting and refining their own practice. Strong leaders are those who do a lot of listening from both an outsider and insider perspective of their team. It is important to always create a space for feedback. I have a strong value for integrity and authenticity and I try to guide all my decision making around these values.
How do you motivate your team members?
I think that people are most motivated when they do work they are passionate about and when they feel they have the strength and support to achieve the work. I like to assign projects that align with the natural strengths of my team members, but also stretch them so that they experience that learning curve. I remind my team that when doing the work we do, no one is alone, and if and when there is stress, it is no one person’s stress. I believe that motivation comes from having a support system that allows you to fail and feel safe doing so. If you feel that it’s okay to fail then you’re not afraid to take risks and there is so much important growth that comes from the process.
Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired you along your professional journey?
I was fortunate to have a great Master of Social Work program with many great professors while at the University of Washington. One is Dr. Bill Etnyer, he was a wonderful mentor who helped me understand how you fold micro skills into being a professional in a supervisory capacity. Another wonderful mentor is my current supervisor, Dr. Yvonne Unrau who has been a critical part of my growth, both personally and professionally. She lives and breathes work-life balance and has helped me understand how to balance all of the parts of who I am within the profession of social work. She has encouraged me to be the best version of myself and to be expansive in all that I have to offer, but also reminded me of the importance of having a full personal life.
What are you reading and/or following now (e.g. book, blog, social media groups, etc.)?
I have read everything that Brene Brown has written so I highly recommend any book by her, The Gifts of Imperfection is the one I most often find myself going back to. A blog I recently found is called nonprofitwithballs.com. It is insightful and validating especially as someone who is leading collective impact work in the non-profit world.
How has networking impacted your career?
Networking is everything. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for networking. I think networking for me is one of the most critical parts of my success and of the work I do when running my program. Networking is about building social capital, when you have it, you are a stronger social worker because you have more to offer. Networking and building social capital is not just for oneself, but also can be thought of as a resource to share with those that have not had as much time or resources to build their own network. Because my work is so intersectional, I have an extensive network with partners across various sectors and disciplines. There are so many perspectives that help enhance the work I do and I leverage all of these connections to help the people I serve.
What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
For those at the beginning their professional journey, I would say network and make the most of those connections. Even though the world is big, our field can sometimes feel small. You’ll often come across the same people throughout your journey, so make sure you connect with intention. It’s important to ask what you want and to not shy away from any goal you have. For those already in leadership positions, continue to find ways that challenge you and reflect how willing you are to be vulnerable both with those you serve and those who are part of your team. Vulnerability is what keeps you humble, as a leader, I sometimes worry being out of touch with the street-level work. I think it’s important to be humble and listen to what it feels like to the ones we serve so that we can be the best leaders possible.
Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?
In my work, I directly oversee the Fostering Success Michigan Statewide Initiative. It is a collective impact initiative working to increase access to success in post-secondary education and professional careers for young adults with experience in foster care. We are one of a handful of programs in the country and we are passionate about increasing the success rate of young adults who have been through the foster care system by providing them with a supported pathway to and through post-secondary education. I believe the more awareness there is to this issue, the better our young people who experience foster care will be. I am always open to taking about the issue and wish more states would start such an initiative. I am very proud of the program that we created and the work we are leading in Michigan. For those who wish to learn more, please visit our website at http://fosteringsuccessmichigan.com.
What do you wish you had known before you started your career?
I wish I would have known it was okay to say “I don’t know” and that people will respect you more if you are honest with them. I spent a lot of time early in my career trying to figure everything out on my own. Now, I know the importance of being transparent and asking for help.
Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.
An important lesson I’ve learned is that you simply cannot go at it alone and you cannot create change until people working with you are ready to be a part of that change. I mistakenly believed that by creating a program, service systems would quickly improve, but that is not how it works. I have learned to be patient with the process. I want to improve outcomes for young people because they deserve to have good outcomes and stronger systems, but we need to also realize that systems are run by humans and you can’t force people to do things they are not able or equipped to do. I have learned to have so much more grace with my colleagues and myself. I truly believe we all intend to do our best.
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*The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.