Supervising a superstar
As you look at most of the writings and trainings out there on supervision the focus is on teaching the skills needed to be a competent and effective supervisor and much is focused on supervising new employees or "problem" employees. However, there does not seem to be much on how to supervise the "super-star" worker, that is one who is very skilled, highly motivated, good team player, etc. Often if these "stars", also sometimes known as "the best and the brightest" feel taken for granted, or do not feel they are growing through supervision, they will move on and leave the department or agency.
We are wondering if you know of any materials, have ideas, or experiences to share around supervising the "best and the brightest".
Also, if you are one who sees yourself (humbly, of course) as one of the "best and the brightest" what is most important and effective to you in the supervisory relationship and process in terms of what you receive.
Frank Delano and Jill Shah
New York, NY
I have never met a superstar during my time as a residential child care worker. I understand that some child workers are better than others. I know that my idea of who is or who is not a good child care worker has changed as my experience grows - though I'm not saying my judgment is right on that. I have met people who grow into being exceptional child care workers. In my experience they tend to be people who know they are always learning and don't believe they have found the holy grail. They are receptive to good supervision - the latter being in my view the right of every worker - and they have not seen themselves as exceptional workers but they do tend to be helpful, supportive to the young people and their colleagues alike. Often this kind of worker seems awkward and naive when they start working with you. They ask questions that you can't just give a yes or no to or that make you think they are naive not to know the answer. They make you - the more experienced worker - begin to question yourself and your role, just in the way that the kids often do. I'm afraid I wasn't one of these better workers.
It took me a lot longer to become even what one might call competent. I hope my supervisor and some of the children I have worked with have thought my struggle has availed something worthwhile. I am grateful that I had a supervisor who had patience. I am grateful too that I have been able to supervise some of these better though less experienced workers because I have gained a great deal from them and I think they may occasionally have gained from me the idea that making mistakes is OK if you learn by them. I have not met superstars. For me, it has not been that kind of business.
Coaching and apprenticeship are central to the supervision relationship. We should be working alongside one another as we learn how to do things together.
I am always skeptical of any supervision or training that comes with mostly closing a door. It's not that we don't need some privacy to work issues through but we also need an action orientation. For example, how can we supervise group work if we are not running groups together, perhaps with a newer worker paired with a super star.
As workers mature into experienced leaders, a good way to organize learning in a supervision relationship is to work toward certification as a youth worker at the full professional level. The youth worker certification from the Association of Child and Youth Care Practice promotes developmental competencies in direct practice.
Every worker who is the "best and brightest" should be capable of demonstrating these skill sets which have been well tested by experience and research. You may want to contact Frank Eckles at the National Certification Board.
In addition two of the strongest and most respected trainers on supervision in youth work are Floyd Alwon at the Walker Trieschman Center (Child Welfare League) and Sister Madeleine Rybicki at Holy Family Institute (Pittsburgh). Floyd has a well developed curriculum on effective supervision and Sr. Madeleine leads one of the best training programs for our kind of work in the country.
The key here is "our kind of work". Youth work is relational and developmental. It's about the activities of daily living daily living in a milieu where relationships grow to change the lives of children and youth. Many models for supervision are really too top down or clinical for youth work.
So we are really coaching stars within teams. Leaders motivated to care. We are not afraid to use the experience of our own lives to guide children and youth through contested spaces. Exploring who we are in relationship to others is key for supervision.
Academy for Educational Development
Center for Youth Development & Policy Research Washington, D.C.
One of the things I did was to ask them if they were interested in learning about other aspects of the agency. One of my staff expressed interest in how the finances worked for a child care agency, and I arranged time with the business office. One wanted to help out with training. It's always good to use these folks as mentors. They are also perfect to delegate for interagency and professional committees. You are absolutely right that being recognized for their skill and commitment is essential if we don't want to lose them.
As someone who is quite passionate about my work and had exceptional guidance, training and support, (Gerry Fewster, Malaspina BA CYC program and Sarah Foster Nanaimo Boys and Girls Club) to name 2 of my original mentor/supporters. To supervise the "super-star", my thoughts go to recognition, no matter how small. Also when one is working in the field of relationships, why not have a conversation with the SS and see how they are feeling. Keep the lines of communication open and you may find out the your SS is as good as you think and is happy with just doing the work. My experience to date has been that most people enjoy a little, "good job" once in a while.
Something I do for me, is to be the one to give out the thank you's. I know how I feel when I get them so why not make the effort to share that feeling. If you do not want to loose your best workers than make a conscious effort to let them know how much they are appreciated and that they are not taken for granted. A little bit can go a long way.
Child/Youth Care Worker
Elgin Park Secondary
I love working with the "superstars," it is the "rock-stars" that I have a problem with. I have really enjoyed working with people who are bright, intelligent, energetic and compassionate and willing to learn. They really lift the place up! It's impossible to know everything there is to know, so find their growing edges and help them along that path. Part of the challenge maybe managing the reputation of being a "superstar," so it doesn't take away from other people's strengths and efforts. This superstar can only be a true superstar if he is making the team better, otherwise (you may have guessed it), he is just a rock-star.
Alfonso Ramirez, Jr.
ORR Program Director
Hi there Frank and Jill,
Great question. I can honestly say that i think i have flourished as a CYC at my current job because of the amazing, strong and CLINICAL supervision i have. I think the clinical piece fits most for me as my supervisor is consistently putting my question back to me. He challenges me (respectfully) and it encourages me to look within myself for the questions or issues that I raise in supervision. I think as well he creates a safe, non judgmental environment where it's okay to talk about the challenges i experience while being vulnerable in this process. I recall reading an article on the cyc net a while ago, where it compares cyc's to great supervisors and the parallels that exist. While it is true much of our work and supervisors is about fostering new skills, but before that step it's about fostering self exploration. Strong CYC's and Supervisors are able to do this efficiently. Hope this helps,,
Greetings, Frank and Jill,
I think this is a relatively easy question to answer. If you have a "super star", then the role of the supervisor should be about ways to help them grow professionally and personally and give them more responsibility. Perhaps they could be involved in Supervisory or Training activities themselves. In order not to lose them, they must feel that their skills are valued and that they will be in a position that is both challenging and meaningful. Supervision is a thoughtful and meaningful process which facilitates self reflection and growth. That applies to the rising stars as well as the falling ones.
I too have never met a super-star, I'm not sure what is meant by this? I do not like to put people on pedestals but treat everyone with respect which includes the knowlege accumulated. I also think people excel at different things but to be truly super is to except that we need to learn more. I worked with a person who always said 'in all my years of child care', which indicated that they had lots of experience but this stance became off putting in asking questions because a) am I asking the obvious and b) seemed dismissive that other people had accumulated different varying experiences and the 15 years was more valid. For all this person's years of experience the mentoring skills were weak as their way was the only way rather than letting the staff members explore solutions also. This is a skill in itself and like some of the comments are supportive to young people and colleagues also. The person may have felt threatened by changes or new practices but given they were not receptive to supervision was arguably a dangerous practioner. saw how this person worked with young people I learned loads but with staff her manner was not helpful. This person was quick to criticise and not praise. So yes, a potential star but not as bright as could have been.
So in answer to how to supervise a supervise a super-star: give responsiblity, get them to research, see it as a chance to enter meaningful dialogue with someone who is challenging. If they are always asking questions, get them to find out more and ask them to bring it back. Co-work with staff or give opportunities to shadow or work alongside. Some people are very good at talking the talk but not so good at putting into practice so it's important that supervision is holistic.
I also think that staff do need dedicated one to one time through supervision - to check ideas about practice or indeed understanding on policies/legislation new or old -the other stuff that underpins evidence based practice. The danger of just leaving it on the floor gives those who don't like supervision opportunites to hide from some of the other work that needs to be explored. We also need to be careful with superstars with overload sometimes they can take on too much as they want to gain so much experience they forget to say no, which in itself is a skill and that is why supervision is important to support people in their work.
From: John Stein [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 26 January 2009 05:24 PM
Wow! Someone concerned with taking care of a valuable employee!
My suggestion for the superstar - put it in writing. Employees really like to get written commendations. I did it privately - not in a staff meeting. Just a memo in their mailbox - in a sealed envelope. A memo whose subject line read simply: "Commendation." In the memo, I would spell out clearly and succinctly what the commendation was for and thank them for the excellent work or a job well done. I tried to keep it to one or two brief paragraphs. I would "cc" the department head or the executive. Most, perhaps all who received commendations, saved them. Some framed them.
I also liked to do commendations for employees who were not superstars and was always looking for something they did really well for which I might commend them. But I kept it real. It did have to be something done really well. I wasn't giving out commendations every day, but in smaller programs, I did try to write something for every employee at least once a year. To let them know I noticed and appreciated it. Sometimes it would be an area where I wanted everyone to improve, like attendance or documentation. So I might commend perfect attendance for 3 or 6 months. Or a really well-written report. If I couldn't do a commendation, I might just do a thank you.
And evaluations can be helpful, but I hated those forms and checklists. I liked to do narratives with three sections:
1. Strengths the employee brings to the job. I
would list them. This makes it clear that you notice the employee's
strengths. I would let the employee tell me about something I might have
2. Accomplishments during the past 6 or 12 months. Again, I would list them as above.
3. Areas of focus for the future. (I don't like to talk about areas in need of improvement.) I would talk about ways in which the employee might help the agency to grow, such as taking leadership in planning or organizing more activities, or improving facility cleanliness. Taking leadership in improving our documentation. Or streamlining our documentation if it were becoming too wieldy and time-consuming. Whatever area I wanted to focus on for the agency.
For conscientious employees, corrective feedback doesn't have to be written. For all employees, taking the time to recognize their strengths and contributions in writing once in awhile makes them feel appreciated.
And taking care of employees is I think a supervisor's most important job. When supervisors take good care of employees, employees take good care of the children.
Keep up the good work, Frank.
However good a worker is (superstar) we all need supervision It is not meant to be a one-way street, where some expert supervisor tells some inexpert worker how to do their job. It is a crucial aspect of continuing professional development, and a shared process, in which both parties learn and develop. I find an effective way to think of supervision, which works for workers at all levels, is to operate in four discrete domains:
1. Accountability and workload management (what
has been done, what needs to be done, how well it is done)
2. Education, training and development (if the supervisor cannot provide this, what training does the supervisee need or want? How can they continue to develop? Even superstars don't stay still)
3. Analysis and problem solving (This doesn't have to be one way, perhaps one problem to solve is what kind of supervision would help them
4. Personal support (According to Attachment Theory, the ability to seek and provide support is a key indicator of adult psychological wellbeing).
Hope this helps
Lorraine, nicely put.
Kelly, I think that there's juice in looking at why anyone might NOT render a "good job" - think Kantian ethic - saying so just because it's so (rather than as an attempted means to an end).