Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Management 101

Most managers of mental health services get very little training in the business of management itself.  In our academic preparation we hear next to nothing about human resources, marketing, budgeting and funding models, project management and implementation, and paradigm conflict, among other sundry topics involved in this work.  We mostly learn on the job, which is to say through trial and error.  Or trial and success.  Some of us may pick up exposure through continuing education, informal training provided on our campuses, and more rarely through formal education.  Many of us benefit from networks provided for by organizations in the field, many of which I have listed elsewhere in this blog.  I know I have benefited immensely from the consultations provided by more seasoned directors than I, which continues to this day.  I am eternally grateful for these opportunities.  I believe there is an admirable expectation in our field that wisdom is passed down to new generations of leaders, and that this is done freely.

In this way we come to develop skills needed to manage services competently.  One can find a few texts which assist in this process, but there is no substitute for a sort of folk wisdom, if you will, which has been hard-won over time.  Below I make a humble attempt to present one version of this wisdom which I have gathered in over 22 years of labor.

  • Counseling or psychotherapy is mostly invisible and under-valued, and if you don't tell its story, loudly, no one will know much about it.
  • Just because you believe that college mental health is an oasis of sanity does not mean that others do.
  • One would think that mental health professionals who are trained helpers bound to a code of ethics always have the best of intentions and motives.  This is not true.
  • You can't please everyone or, alternatively, if you don't make an enemy along the way you are doing something wrong.
  • Take nothing personally.
  • Admit what talents you do not have, and collaborate with those that do.
  • There are people, organizations, and systems that will interfere with your attempts to help students.  There are many reasons why this is so, and not all of them are malevolent.
  • Praise in public, correct in private.
  • Know when to step away from work for the sake of your sanity.
  • Keep your word.  If you don't it can take a long, long while to earn trust back.
  • We are always one irrational student/parent/colleague away from disaster.  Unfair as it may be, such individuals can obliterate all the credit and stock which your team has earned.
  • Take up a new hobby every other year or so.
  • Nurture your relationships even if that doesn't come naturally to you.
  • When you are tired or weak, frustrated or angry, fearful or anxious, delay your decision.  You will feel better later.
  • Don't get distracted by petty games, fears, and a culture of blame.  Stay focused on what you believe is right and best.
  • Assert your authority, but treat this prerogative as you would a very expensive spice.
  • Be accountable to those above, below, left and right, but most importantly, to your self.
  • Work really hard to remove your ego from all considerations.  This is not easy.
  • Ask for help, permission, resources, funding, time to think, limits, forgiveness.  When it is denied ask again anyway.
  • Delegate.
  • Let go of pet projects when they are not effective.
  • Remember your family and friends.
  • Stand up to bullies and go to bat for your beliefs.  Others are watching you.
  • Play to the assets of your staff and overlook their weaknesses, but only up to a point which does not diminish your mission.
  • Many will expect perfection of you but not of themselves.  Get used to that.
  • When things get convoluted and you are in doubt, focus on helping the student in the best way you know how.
  • Even when things are messy and ugly spend some time recalling the inherent beauty and goodness in nature and human beings.
In subsequent posts I will expand on some of these themes, so please stand by.