Wednesday, December 30, 2009

historical social work leadership

Check out an amazing story on NPR

In the 1940s several conscientious objectors began volunteering at the state psychiatric hospital in Philly. The conditions were so horrific they secretly took pictures, went to the media and made change happen. They all subsequently became social workers.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Below is a commentary on WCHL, which involves a call for local leadership.

With the new year approaching, I’ve been thinking about what I’m hoping for in 2010. And, since I’m a social worker, lots of it has to do with changes I hope to see this coming year.

Along with global hopes, like world peace and affordable healthcare, I also have some local hopes for our community. Some are the hope that this is the year people will finally get off their cell phones and Blackberrys and drive. But one is big, and I’d like to share it.

As you’ve probably heard, North Carolina’s mental health system is a shambles. Parents can’t get help for severely depressed kids, adults can’t find services so they can function and raise their families...People are hurting, or dying, and the state is finally facing a lawsuit.

Former Mayor Foy put together a task force to look at this issue locally. The task force reported its recommendations to the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the County Commissioners. Though there was a proposal for a committee to look at this in Chapel Hill, not much else happened.

So my hope for 2010 is that our local leaders will develop a strong sense of righteous indignation and moral outrage at the conditions people with mental illnesses face...and that this outrage will lead them to act, to figure out ways to pool resources, be creative, and get folks the help they desperately need.
That’s my hope for 2010. And, I hope you and yours have a peaceful and joyous holiday.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Leadership training

NASW is offering a members-only Lunchtime Series Webinar: How Leaders Lead: Guiding Principles for Social Workers in Evidence-Driven Environments (2.0 FREE CEs) — January 26, 2010 1:00 PM-3:00 PM (ET). Go to for more information


It's been a while since I've posted to this blog. The end of the semester, the holidays, other demands...they have a way of crowding out other important things. So here's a question: Leaders have multiple competing demands, fires to put out, people in their faces. How do good leaders separate out the important from the urgent? Something may be urgent in the moment, but not important in the larger scheme of things. Particularly in social work, where we are underfunded, understaffed, and dealing with constant crises, how do we continue to work on important long term projects and issues?

New year's resolution--before I jump to do something, I will ask "Is this an important request, or simply an urgent one?"

Happy holidays all. Peace and joy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Proactive thinking and leadership

One of the characteristics of a good leader is to be proactive and anticipatory. Wayne Gretzky used to talk about skating to where is puck is going to be, not to where it is...good leaders know where the puck is going to be.

Given this, as social work leaders I think we have an obligation to think about "where the puck is going to be" when it comes to human services. We've been hearing news about state tax revenues already being lower than projected, which does not bode well for human services. What can we be doing now, how can we be proactive, how can we keep more cuts from coming to the fragile services that are helping the most vulnerable people in our communities?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leadership, Social Work, and the Military

On November 2 Dr. Griffin Lockett will be speaking about Leadership, Social Work, and the Military, exploring (among other things) issues of functioning as a social work leader within a military culture.

Dr. Lockett will be in Room 300 TTK from 12:15-1:30 All are welcome.

Leadership and Courage

Really interesting article on leadership and courage. Starts with the quote from Andrew Jackson "One person with courage is a majority."

Check it out at

Monday, October 19, 2009

Leadership and International Social Work

UNC School of Socail Work Leadership Series presents Dr. Gina Chowa speaking on "Leadership and International Social Work" tomorrow at 12:15 in room 300

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Effective Leadership and Advocacy

Yesterday a coalition of advocacy organizations and consumer groups gathered for a press conference in Raleigh, demanding that the Governor call a special session of the General Assembly to deal with the mounting disasters in the mental health, developmental disabilities, substance abuse services system.

Never let it be said this kind of action has no impact! The evening before the event occurred (but after the word had leaked)our Secretary of DHHS announced the state had "found" an additional $15M for mental health services. For a great summary of the issue see Chris Fitzsimon's column at

Effective leadership and advocacy combined with collaboration can make a huge difference. What was the Margaret Meade quote..."Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world...indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Quick quiz--what do the following political and social leaders have in common: Abraham Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Abbie Hoffman?

Give up? They all lived with a serious mental illness.

As social work leaders, one of our tasks is to be inclusive, not to dismiss anyone because of their label. Mental illness is one of the most difficult labels to live with; the stigma in our society against people who live with mental illnesses is severe. This despite the fact that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetime.

October 4-10 is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. So take a little time, learn more about mental illnesses, read about recovery, and step forward to dispel myths and decrease stigma.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leadership, ethics, and the law

In doing ethics trainings I am often asked to talk about legal liability issues. This provides an opportunity to talk about ethics versus law...that these are overlapping but not synonymous terms. Certain things may be legal but not ethical, and one of the things a leader must do is struggle with this issue, having the moral courage to speak the truth and act on it.

One area where social workers struggle with this tension between legal and ethical is around immigration. Our social work leadership through NASW has put together a toolkit to help social workers who wrestle with this area.

As a result of the NASW President’s Initiative on Diversity, the purpose of the Immigration Toolkit is to provide NASW chapters, members, and other entities with policy information and tools to promote the competency of social workers in the immigration field, to fight discrimination against immigrants, and to take social and political action in support of the rights of immigrants. To view the Toolkit, go to:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hispanic Heritage Month

It's Hispanic Heritage Month, and an opportunity to think about Hispanic/Latino leaders who have focused on civil rights issues. Here are a couple I could think of, with some information from a variety of internet sources.
Who are the Hispanic/Latino leaders you most admire?

Dennis Chávez
As a United States senator, Dennis Chávez battled for the rights of Hispanic residents and Native Americans in his home state, New Mexico. He was a senator for 27 years, from 1935 to 1962. Chávez tried to stop discrimination against workers based on their race, religion, or ethnic background. He played a major role in the establishment of an agency to protect workers, known as the Fair Employment Practices Commission.

Cesar Chávez
César Chávez came from a family of poor migrant workers. Through the experiences of his family, he knew the hard lives led by farm workers who came to work in California from Mexico. They had to live in dirty, cramped places and earned little money. In 1962, with Dolores Huerta, he started a group to change these terrible conditions — the United Farm Workers of America. At first the workers were afraid of the produce growers. But Chávez inspired the group and led peaceful protests and boycotts. These actions convinced the growers to sign contracts with the farm workers and to treat them better.

Dolores Huerta
Dolores Huerta has devoted her whole life to better treatment and justice for farm workers. Along with César Chávez, she co-founded the United Farm Workers of America. She negotiated the first labor contract for the migrant farm workers and helped get the growers to agree to stop using dangerous chemicals on grapes. Because of a boycott Huerta led in 1970, urging people not to buy California grapes, the grape industry agreed to treat the workers better.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
In 1982, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban American to be elected to the U.S. Congress. When she was 7 years old, her family fled Communist forces in Cuba. Today, the Republican congresswoman strongly opposes Communism in Cuba. She advocates for human rights around the world.

Sonia Sotomayor
She is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. On May 26, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace retired Justice David Souter . Her nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 6, 2009, by a vote of 68–31, and she was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on August 8. Sotomayor is the Court's 111th justice, its first Hispanic justice, and its third female justice. Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent and was born in the Bronx.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Quiet Leader

Today I'm thinking alot about Gary Shaffer, a man who has been a quiet and courageous leader in the field of school social work for decades. Gary is an amazing example of leadership without fanfare, without force, without ego. For over 20 years Gary has worked in NC to educate and prepare social workers to work in our schools. He knows the importance of having a social worker there to help the child whose academic performance or behavior is problematic, not due to lack of skill or smarts, but due to poverty, violence, substances, bullying, or simply having no one that cares. He communicates the needs of school-age kids, and the importance of school social workers, to county commissioners, legislators, school systems, universities, and anyone else with whom he speaks.

Three particular ways to help kids have been Gary's most recent interest: getting free lunches to kids in poverty during the summers through the schools; banning corporal punishment in schools in NC; and passing anti-bullying legislation to protect vulnerable kids. He was particularly tenacious in his advocacy for the anti-bullying bill, which passed the General Assembly this small victory and impossible without his leadership.

Gary has led both by word and by example. His most recent and most courageous example has been in how he handles his health. Gary has been struggling with illness for several years. Throughout this time he has kept on keeping on--even when we knew he was tired or felt sick or was sick and tired of his treatments. His passion for the work was strong and helped him continue the fight. So whether in his work or his life, Gary has been a gentle yet tenacious leader, fighting for what he believes in and dedicated to the wellbeing of kids and the social workers who help them. We're fortunate to have leaders like Gary Shaffer, and I know I'm a better social worker and person because of him.

Friday, August 28, 2009

There is an interesting book out through Boston University titled "Principled Leadership in Mental Health Systems and Programs" by William A. Anthony & Kevin Ann Huckshorn. It posits that in this time of national mental healthcare collapse we need a different kind of leader than the one traditionally seen in the public section. You can find an excerpt at

Friday, August 21, 2009

Found an intersting article on the effectiveness of transformational versus transactional leadership in a social work setting. It is an empirical article, looking at the correlation between transactional leadership factors (e.g. leaders encouraging change in staff behavior through positive rewards) versus transformational leadership factors (e.g. leaders catalyzing change by communicating new values and vision). Check it out. Gellis, Z. (2001). Social work perceptions of transformational and transactional leadership in health care. Social Work Research, 25, 17-25.

For those of you with access to the e-reserves at UNC, cou can get it at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Leadership and anger

Chris Fitzsimon wrote an interesting piece yesterday on the vehemence and anger in response to the Obama healthcare plan, and how much of the content and affect had little to do with healthcare.

New leaders have an interesting developmental trajectory, with excessive hope and expectation followed by rage when everything isn't "fixed" right away. Having the moral courage to stay the course is a challenge in the face of this kind of vitriol, often irrational and personal rather than issue focused. What should a leader do in the face of irrational and impossible demands (like "don't raise my taxes, but make sure we can all get all the healthcare we want when we want it and with total choice and control.")?

Are there ways to prevent this pattern of honeymoon and rebound rage? Is there a way to build front-end buy-in to minimize this? Or is this simply a stage a good leader needs to weather?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Our governor signed the NC budget behind closed doors, with no ceremony, and with a public statement that she had real reservations about the budget...which begs the question of why did she sign it? How do leaders decide when to fight and when to concede? How do we as social work leaders weigh the harm in continuing to fight (e.g. not signing a budget and having the state continue to struggle without one) versus the harm in compromise and concession (e.g. signing a budget that has HUGE cuts in HHS, DOC, etc.)? Are there some things that are simply non-negotiable, that no matter how much they may harm us or others we simply cannot compromise on or concede to? If so, what are they? Do we as leaders have a right to make these kinds of decisions when they may harm others, without consulting with these others first?

The ethics of moral dilemmas is something requiring much self-reflection and collaborative discussion among social work leaders. I'm not sure we do enough of this.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Social Work Leaders Past and Present

The Executive Director of NASW has put out a document "A Broader Vision for the Social Work Profession" where she outlines our history and leadership as a profession, and talks about what it means to be a social worker now. Check it out at

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Welcome to the start of academic year 2009-2010! It has been a summer full of leadership (or lack thereof) activity at the federal, state, and local levels. People have been working diligently to preserve or improve programs, to address social injustice, and to simply speak truth to power about the conditions in our society. What roles have social workers played in all this? What roles should we play?

I'll be posting regularly here, making comments on leadership issues, resources, actions. Looking forward to a challenging year of growth for us all.