James and Paula run a national organisation that supports people with learning disabilities and people with autism, which means they really understand people – what help they need to make their own choices and decisions; what drives some people to support and care for others; and what their role is, as leaders of a caring service.
Care and Support is a difficult business to be in nowadays, with more monitoring, efficiency-savings, timesheets and IT, than you might imagine when you’re caring for people. Public spending cuts, the short-term expediency of commissioners, and increased scrutiny, have a negative effect on caring organisations. The common response is a focus on process, rules and their own survival, rather than on their customers. There’s also the negative impact on the people who provide the support – diminution of terms and conditions, less time to spend with customers, more paperwork, more saying no.
James and Paula believe that, in these conditions, they must model the way by retaining a strong focus on their customers and the core purpose of their organisation, communicating this well and in person. They strive to maintain a balance between “feeding the beast” (of bureaucracy) and quality time spent with the people being supported. Corporate messages, success measures and the daily actions of the leaders must recognise, reinforce and value the transformational working relationships with the people they support.
Supporting disadvantaged and disabled people to live the life they choose, and working with them through their challenges, set-backs and achievements, carries an emotional toll for the service-providers – many of whom are lone-workers, who can feel isolated and have their own issues to deal with. Their managers need to be able to identify when people are struggling and create formal and informal opportunities for people to offload and share their experiences.
At their best, leaders of caring services are inspirational role models, in organisations that provide development opportunities to ‘grow their own’, prevent burn-out and disillusionment. They are visible, accessible, involved and honest – recognising mistakes and learning from them, without fear or blame. They can balance creativity with pragmatism and promote compliance without dampening enthusiasm.
James and Paula say their role is to
“give staff the tools they need to do their jobs and get out of the way”
One in a series of case studies with http://www.themindfulleadershipfoundation.com, which explore how leaders of the social and caring professions can prevent burnout, and nurture resilient and compassionate front-line teams. If any of this is familiar to you, please share your story and your suggestions.