Building Community: People First
One of the biggest challenges in life is finding a community where you feel at home. I was lucky enough to experience an incredibly strong community in a place I never expected: my job as a staff supervisor at the UC Berkeley LEAD Center. The office culture and work environment fostered by career and student staff created a close-knit, positive community where everyone felt like they belonged, despite the fact that each of us came from dramatically different backgrounds. While it is nice to think that this environment arose naturally (though parts of it certainly did), our career staff and student supervisors devoted a great deal of thought and effort into fostering this strong community.
The person that contributed the most to this community was undoubtedly my boss and direct supervisor, Jenny. Along with being an amazing leader, Jenny was a friend and role-model to me throughout my time at the LEAD Center. What made Jenny incredible was how she was able to maintain strong relationships with all of the staff she supervised, while also maintaining a strong sense of her personal values. She valued balance, development, and representation. She recognized that everyone around her was trying to find that delicate balance between work, education, extracurricular activities, and our personal lives. Along with offering us guidance, she offered us support and encouraged us to support each other when things became overwhelming. She unselfishly offered us trainings in widely-applicable skills, knowing that though we may not pursue a career in student affairs, our time at the LEAD Center could still help us professionally. Finally, Jenny always advocated to make our voices heard in administration meetings because she believed that student staff should have input in decisions that will inevitably impact other students’ experiences.
What is most remarkable is that all of these examples were not even part of her official job description. She consciously went above and beyond her position to serve others and her results spoke for themselves. Our office had the highest staff retention rate in the Student Union. Our staff experience surveys showed that if our staff left, they did so with refined skills in feedback, customer service, and a plethora of other professional skills. While reflecting on my time at the LEAD Center, I have noticed that much of the personal growth I experienced was due to Jenny’s guidance. While she taught me many things over the course of our time together, I wanted to highlight three things she exemplified that EVERY leader should strive to do:
Use Team Member Strengths
Our office was always very proactive about learning the strengths of different team members. In the first few weeks of training, we required staff to complete assessments in True Colors, Myers-Briggs, and StrengthsFinder. The key thing to note is that if the knowledge is used well, you will see dramatic differences in your group dynamics. A few things to remember:
- Always be mindful of the different strengths of each staff member. When putting together project teams, assignments, and leadership roles, recommend team pairings based on complementary strengths and skills. The important part about this is to not only consider strengths on paper, but strengths observed in daily interactions.
- Be intentional about conveying your reasoning to your teams. This transparency not only increases trust in leadership, but allows people to recognize their own talents and skills. Using team member strengths in this way allows you to improve efficiency by putting well-equipped staff members in the right positions and by setting them up for success by boosting their confidence.
Care About Developing People
Be proactive about asking team members want they want out of their job and create initiatives/programs to meet those desires. This approach will not only help people grow as professionals, but will keep them engaged with your organization and it’s vision! Here are a few ideas:
- Set up a mentorship program for staff to learn and develop relationships in a one-on-one environment
- Schedule timely check-ins with each staff member to offer informal career advice or feedback.
- Always be mindful of staff members’ interests and goals. Pay careful attention when personal interests and goals don’t align with the organization’s interests and goals. It is easy to ignore those interests and goals in order to meet quotas or deadline, but challenge yourself to find ways to foster them and create opportunities for growth and development.
A quality of a truly great leader is the ability to motivate others. But, this ability does not come without first having a genuine understanding and care for those you wish to lead. For many leaders, motivating others is not something explicitly talked about, but is something that must be considered constantly. Here are a couple things that worked with me!
- Care about how your staff members are doing, not necessarily what they are doing. This approach creates strong relationships socially and at work. It is the reason many stay late or work an extra shift to ensure that work gets done and that expectations are met.
- Instead of using your leadership position to impose authority or push to meet strict expectations, use your leadership skills to develop your staff and it will motivate them to succeed.
*Meet the Author*
“Andrew is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago Law School, with a BS from UC Berkeley and has worked as a coach for Leadership Inspirations since 2013. At UC Berkeley, he worked as the Office Management Coordinator for the LEAD Center where he developed a passion for empowering others to be confident, successful leaders. His hobbies include reading, bullet journaling, and snacks.”