Good Supervision - Not One Size Fits All

01/02/19 | By Joseph Duffy

I like being the first one in at work using that time to prepare for the day ahead. September 11, 2001 started out like any other work day. I was at my desk at Catholic Charities in Paterson around 6:30 that morning. I was feeling particularly upbeat about the week, having just returned from the Annual Gathering (convention) of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), held nearby at the Meadowlands Hilton, a short ride from the Lincoln Tunnel and NYC. Catholic Charities Newark was the host agency for the Gathering but my own Catholic Charities Paterson and Catholic Charities of Metuchen, Camden, and Trenton assisted CC Newark in the hosting. On Saturday September 8, I was the volunteer guide on one of a dozen buses transporting almost 600 Catholic Charities staff from all over the US, from our hotel to board a ferry to Ellis Island for a gala dinner. As we drove, I pointed out sites and landmarks, one of them being the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. Little did any of us know that would be the last time we would see those Towers.

I was sitting at my desk when the phone rang about 8:50. It was one of my department heads, Sister Maria asking me if I heard the news of a plane crashing into the WTC, speculating it was most likely a small Cessna plane. Of course it wasn’t.

I immediately stepped out of my preferred management style which I would describe as participatory and collaborative. I believe that different situations warrant different styles of management. Sister Maria’s phone call was a game changer for that work day. We were in crisis mode now, needing quick decisions and quick action.

I took charge, quietly but firmly issuing orders, delegated responsibilities, gathered information and adjusted directions as more information came in. Within a couple of hours we were communicating to staff, board members, donors, volunteers, and the local community, what we knew, what we could do and how to contact us for help or questions. The next day I issued our first check to a new widow with children, to assist her with daily expenses while she dealt with the loss of her husband. It was the first of many checks issued in the days, weeks, and months ahead (we served over90 clients across Bergen, Passaic and Sussex counties, survivors and family members from Wall Street broker types, to kitchen staff from Tavern on the Green to limo drivers, and more). Over my 24 year career at Catholic Charities, I proudly say, this was our finest hour.

But as I said above, this is not my usual and preferred management style. Good supervision matches up with the situation and with the needs and capabilities of the people in the work place. To learn more about supervision styles and techniques, read Chapter 9 of Being a Supervisor 1.0: a Handbook for the New, Aspiring, and Experienced Supervisor.


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