Children's Home Society of Florida is the state’s largest provider of services to children and families, particularly those in crisis, and a leading advocate for the state’s child welfare system.
My mistake was thinking the best way to come in and run such a big enterprise was command and control. I learned [the lesson] in a very indirect way: I’m this young, wide-eyed professional saying, "I’ve been given a lot of responsibility, I have a lot of people, and I’m running these contracts statewide. I have a lot of CEOs statewide who run these organizations that have these contracts. And my job is to tell everyone I’ve got a plan, I’m working the plan, and this is where we’re headed. Stick to the plan."
So then I’m thinking to myself, I’m ready to be a parent. When I adopted my son from the child welfare system, I thought that parenting would be exactly like running a large organization: If I just had the plan, I could manage my 9-year-old son the same way. And of course, I was a father for about one day when I realized I couldn’t do either job on my own.
What I did was I reached out to every close friend I had and said, "I need to hear from you that I never have to feel bad about picking up the phone and saying, 'I need your help.'”
I had underestimated what it means to parent as a single parent. I realized I have to build a team for this, the most important challenge of my life, which is parenting a 9-year-old boy. I started to ask, "What does my team look like in terms of raising my son?" And "What does my team look like in terms of managing my professional life?" Because I couldn’t keep working the way I was working if I was going to be a single father.
I was a father for about one day when I realized I couldn’t do either job on my own.
And just as I began to realize that it’s not a bad thing to reach out, to say, "Hey – I don’t know all the answers," I also realized that in my work life I didn’t have to have every answer. I had smart people. In fact, one of the things I did really well without even knowing it was I went out and hired people that were smarter than I am.
I wouldn’t say I flipped a switch one day. I gradually started talking to the members of my team and saying, "You consistently have brought the smartest ideas about how we evolve this process … why do I need to be in the room talking with providers? Can you take it on?"
I just started to ask, “Am I value-added here?” I was feeling pressed at both ends and [realizing] I can’t control what’s going on. But just like I’m building partnerships on the home front, let me build some partnerships here – and not be afraid to talk to colleagues, talk to my direct reports, and say, "I don’t know what the solution to this problem is – why don’t you help me out on it?"
That really is when I became a huge proponent of this idea of teams. That core team – whether you’re parenting or running an organization – there’s nothing more important than alignment and cohesion on that team.
Follow Children's Home Society on Twitter at @HelpFLKids.
Photo courtesy of Mike Shaver