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Barbara Jordan
Sep 18, 2012

Remember Where You Came From and How You Got Here

Recently, an organization I work with experienced tremendous rapid business growth. Along with the typical “growing pains”, employees were over-extended because programs were under-staffed. Therefore, I stepped in to help counselors. Now, realize this: as a supervisor and counselor educator, it had been years since I was “in the trenches”. So you can imagine my surprise. Wow, was that an eye-opening experience! The most painful part of it was struggling with the record-keeping and paperwork. But, of course, as any great leader handles difficult times, I asked myself what I could learn from the experience. Supervisors: What can you learn from doing your counselors’ work?

• Your employees’ challenges and obstacles.
• Empathy, period. Nothing more needs to be said here.
• How long it actually takes to do their tasks.
• Whether employees have the necessary tools, resources, time, money, equipment, and/or technology.
• Their strengths, solutions, talents, and suggestions for completing tasks more efficiently and effectively.
• What can be improved in terms of procedures, policies, systems, and processes. How can we improve the tools we have? Can we access better resources/equipment/technology to make our work more efficient? Can we utilize time more effectively? Can we streamline the work somehow? Can we eliminate duplication or re-work? Can it be simplified?
• Simply put: Humility. Nothing makes you more humble than having to ask your employees to remind you what you’ve forgotten. (Just how do I do what I’ve been asking you to do all along?!) I haven’t been that vulnerable in a long time.

In the process of muddling through all that complicated paper work, I discovered why our employees are burning out. I came to realize why reports are incomplete, late, or inaccurate. I began to understand how difficult it is to manage time when we don’t give people enough time for paperwork. And, I could see why our turnover rate is high. With these discoveries came a lot of empathy, care and concern for my employees.

The older I get and longer I serve as a leader, the more I recall the patience and caring attitude my early leaders showed me. They saw potential in me. They worked on developing that potential into who I am today--a firm but fair and compassionate leader who can make quick decisions, manage tasks, and simultaneously build/maintain positive working relationships. A leader once helped you with your professional development. Once you become a leader, it’s time to give back and help someone with theirs. This is what it means to remember where you came from and how you got here.

Another sign of forgetting one’s roots? Leaders who prematurely give up on understanding their employees. They fail to ask the right questions, neglect to listen, and judge. But, in order to be effective leaders, we have to take the time to listen and demonstrate interest, care, and non-judgmental concern regarding our employees’ work.

Few of us became leaders overnight. It took years of practice and mixed success to develop into who we are today. The leaders who took us under their wings didn't always begin with discipline. They took the time to explain, coach, and educate us. We must do the same. I want my employees to succeed and not fail, don’t you? Many of them will succeed if they know we care.

Leaders who remember where they came from are not only fair and caring. They also know each of their employees and pay attention to how they complete their projects. If there is one piece of advice I would give you as current or future leaders: take the time to get to know your employees’ work—good and bad, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. “Walking a mile in their shoes” pays huge dividends. It may mean that you have to work some long days.

However, the day isn't over until you’ve understood and met your employees’ needs. Invest the same kind of time many have already invested in you. Where you are now certainly is important to appreciate. But, do not forget how you got there.

Barbara Jordan is a counselor, counselor educator, author, trainer, and leadership coach. For more information go to

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