Being a good supervisor is hard work. For that matter, being supervised isn’t always a walk in the park either, but having a good, hard-working supervisor makes all the difference between whether a subordinate flourishes or flounders. Each of us having filled both roles – those of leader and led – over the years, and each having experienced leaders both exceptional and atrocious in that time, has been a boon as we write and teach about morale in law enforcement. It’s helped us when we’ve stepped into leadership and supervisory roles at times, and it has also made us better followers. Once we got past the emotional scarring that followed the atrocious bosses, that is!
Recent events have led our thoughts again to morale and the influence supervisors – especially the direct line bosses - have on the job satisfaction and morale of their officers. First, we’re about to hit the road, teaching a number of classes titled Police Morale for Supervisors: It IS Your Problem and, second, a close friend just recently earned his stripes. As a newly minted sergeant he will be responsible for leading, and inspiring, a crew of young night shift officers. This was what led Althea to the revelation that what we teach and espouse about morale is really not far off one of the prevailing theories and, for many, guiding principles of her Social Work profession. The Strengths Perspective was the basic framework for so much of what we learned on the way toward our master’s degrees in that field; viewed from a somewhat different angle, most of it would hold up well as a supervisory and administrative philosophy, too.
The Strengths Perspective in Social Work Practice
The strengths perspective was a clinical practice model created in the social work field, building on the idea that clients and/or client groups all have tapped and untapped skill sets, energy, and momentum in their own lives. It was devised as an alternative to a long-standing tendency and practice that arose out of psychoanalytic theory to view clients/patients as “pathology units” to be analyzed, labeled, and fixed. The strengths perspective instructs clinicians to guard against allowing negative labels dictating or constraining treatment that a given client or client group might receive. Instead, finding and respecting a client’s unique strengths, engaging motivation for change through those strengths, collaborating with the client in therapy (while avoiding the “victim mindset” that sees the client as helpless and in need of the therapist to “act on” or “fix”), and indentifying existing resources in the client’s environment are key principles in the strengths perspective.
The more traditional Deficit Model of therapy can be traced to the link that exists between traditional mental health treatment and adherence to a medical model in addressing the problems life throws at us; essentially, when a client comes to a clinician, the problems they present are viewed through the prism of underlying pathology (hence, the viewing of patients as “pathology units” as much or more so than unique individuals) identified by the therapist. The therapist then attacks the problems by attacking the pathology as something to be corrected, with the problems to eventually follow suit.
The problem with this model is how it tends to focus more on what isn’t working in the patient’s life than what is, that the patient is objectified as a product of pathology (a problem) rather than someone who is surviving despite any other problems, and its rather non-holistic approach to treatment. A strengths perspective identifies and builds on what works, and overcomes deficits by generalizing a client’s existing power. The deficit model just tries to attack underlying pathology and mold the patient into a more acceptable package.
Of the two, the strengths perspective has shown the greatest success in terms of client engagement, long-term change, and skill generalization.