Management & Leadership Case Study
Laura is the Associate Director of a non-profit agency that provides assistance to children and families. She is the head of a department that focuses on evaluating the skill-building programs the agency provides to families. She reports directly to agency leadership. As a whole, the agency has been cautious in hiring this year because of increased competition for federal grant funding. However, they have also suffered from high staff turnover. Two directors have left as well as three key research staff and one staff person from the finance department.
Laura has a demanding schedule that requires frequent travel; however, she supervises two managers who in turn are responsible for five staff members each. Both managers have been appointed within the last six months.
Manager 1: Kelly has a specific background in research. She manages staff who provide research support to another department that delivers behavioural health services to youth. Kelly supports her staff and is very organized; however, she often takes a very black and white view of issues. Upper-level leadership values Kelly’s latest research on the therapeutic division’s services. Kelly is very motivated and driven and expects the same from her staff.
Manager 2: Linda has a strong background in social science research and evaluation. She manages staff that work on different projects within the agency. She is known as a problem solver and is extremely supportive of her staff. She is very organized and has a wealth of experience in evaluation of family services. Linda is very capable and can sometimes take on too much.
The managers are sensing that staff are becoming over worked as everyone takes on increased responsibilities due to high staff turnover. Staff have also mentioned that Laura’s “glass half-empty” conversation style leaves them feeling dejected. In addition, Laura has not shared budgets with her managers, so they are having difficulty appropriately allocating work to staff. Laura said she has not received sufficient information from the finance department to complete the budgets. The finance department said they have sent her all the information they have available.
As staff become distressed, the managers are becoming frustrated. They feel like they are unable to advocate for their staff or problem solve without key information like the departmental budget.
Discussion Questions & Answers:
How can Laura most effectively use both management and leadership skills in her role as associate director? What combination of the two do you think would work best in this setting?
Considering the agency already suffered enough from staff turnover, and it has its own challenges with being a non-profit and depending on federal funding which requires more and more competition to get, Laura should demonstrate leadership skills, rather than acting as a third manager for the teams. She already has 2 managers that are managing the 2 teams. Laura’s main role is not management, but leading the boat with good leadership skills.
Staff is already frustrated and on the edge of burnout due to the increased workload resulting from a low retention rate. Laura has to be in a position to quell and motivate them. As good leaders do, she needs to direct her focus to what she can do to maximize her department’s contribution to the agency.
Good leaders have a mindset that their team is not there to help them, they are there to help the team. If Laura makes the team’s work and life harder, rather than easier, there would be no point to have Laura’s position. She should make sure that she supports their work and development, not creating another distress in their already stressful setting.
What steps could be taken to build staff confidence?
Firstly, as Barry Posner shares in his TED talk ‘’ Why credibility is the foundation of leadership’’, we accept people as leaders if we believe they are honest (TEDx Talks, 2015). Honesty and transparency are one of the top 4 qualities we seek in people who claim for leadership. Laura should be honest and transparent and share the necessary information that the staff and managers need about departmental budgets.
Secondly, the “glass-half-empty” conversation style only helps to demotivate and irritate the staff. Laura should change her language to a more positive and encouraging one. Both good managers and leaders possess good collaboration and communication skills. Laura should be mindful of the language she uses, and the environment she creates in the office. The team usually copies the manager, and if Laura establishes a negative atmosphere with the language she uses and attitudes she displays, the workplace becomes painful for everyone.
On that note, Laura should be more mindful that the agency already suffered a lot from high staff turnover. If she’s there to be of benefit to her employer (the agency), she needs to create a positive and productive environment in the workplace by being honest, collaborative, motivating and focusing on productive behaviors that will increase the retention rate. These would help Laura to keep the current staff in the organization and encourages them to present high performance.
What advice would you give Laura on improving her leadership skills and to the managers on improving their management skills?
For Laura, there is a number of ways and steps she could improve her leadership skills. To begin with, being the head of a skill-building department, perhaps the first thing Laura should do is to reassess her personal skills to identify what leadership qualities she might be inefficient at and start working on those. Even if the result of the assessment is positive, Laura can always learn new things and improve her current strengths. We believe that all leaders are lifelong learners. Although she might be swarmed with work, Laura should always make time to keep learning through such activities as reading books, business magazines, attending conferences, and engaging in relevant discussions.
Moreover, her “glass half-empty” attitude could be perceived by her team as a sign of insecurity and incompetence. This is something Laura must try to get rid of. It is important to remember that being pessimistic not only bring unnecessary stress, it also kills creativity and opportunities. We believe that a good leader should always positively influence and motivate people. For example, Laura can consistently reach out to her managers to attentively listen and understand their difficulties at work. This could empower the managers and motivate them to be more involved at work.
For the managers, while manager 1 seems to have a task-oriented approach, manager 2 appears to have a people-oriented approach. For that reason, we advise that they should find a way to find the common ground for their different management styles. For example, they should have meetings on regular basis to share their visions and discuss how to execute them together. It is important that they can use each other’s strengths to complement and support one another. It would be the best way to support and motivate employees to deliver their best performance.
Which leadership style do you think a leader would need to be effective in this situation?
High turnover rate is a common problem for most non-profit organizations, one of the reasons is the shortage of funds due to unstable income from grantors. For this reason, we would recommend that the most effective leadership style would be Facilitative Leadership. This type of leadership is known for its people-centered approach, which is often described as “People come first”. It allows leaders like Laura and her managers to get up close and personal with employees by promoting positive communication, culture, and relationships. Another special advantage of this leadership style is that it is suitable for a sizable management board, consist of inspired professionals and volunteer managers.
Additionally, Laura must broadcast her visions clearly with specific goals and clarified career paths. She should also consider and address her employee’s standpoints and emotion to develop their trust and boost their morale.
TEDx Talks. (2015). Why credibility is the foundation of leadership | Barry Posner | TEDxUniversityofNevada [Video file]. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmMcSBQvQLQ&lc=UgiA13vFSYvz63gCoAEC