Stuck in the Middle

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Elizabeth Bemis
Vice President of Marketing, Promotions and Assisted Living Operations
for United Methodist Homes


If you are in a leadership position, how long has it been since you were on the front-line as a supervisor? If you’ve forgotten what it is like to have demands coming at you from residents, families, co-workers, your staff and your supervisor, you’ve been away too long! Recognizing the important role that supervisors play in any organization is one of the keys to success. They are often stuck in the middle of everything. If your supervisory team doesn’t have the depth, knowledge and emotional intelligence to handle the stresses of daily life in a senior living healthcare organization, you might be in trouble.


As United Methodist Homes, a not-for-profit senior living company in Connecticut, reflected on ways to strengthen our mission and relationships with our staff, we recognized the need to bolster the support and education provided to our supervisory staff. We launched an inter-disciplinary work team to plan a full-day retreat to focus and energize our supervisory staff. We identified key areas of opportunity:


  • Understanding our mission
  • Communication strategies
  • Coaching supervision techniques
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • HR best practices


Almost every organization struggles with the same basic problems: improving communication and hiring and retaining good staff members. If you’ve ever conducted a focus group or sent out an employee satisfaction survey, you already know this. Many years ago, we began teaching our staff about listening blocks; how to identify yours and what to do about them. This was the starting point for our retreat planning. If you don’t get your staff listening and HEARING you, you might as well not have the retreat. We provided a refresher on the ten most common listening blocks and asked people to admit to and own at least one. This provided the first “ah-ha” moment of the retreat and helped all participants realize that everyone has areas we can improve upon. Many even enjoyed sharing stories about a time they now can see they were not listening and what the consequences were. As supervisors, we can be too busy or distracted to really listen to staff. It is never intentional (at least we hope not!). Pseudo-listening, the act of appearing to listen is a big problem in our world, made worse by the hectic pace of life, work and the distractions of technology. Once we identify this as a problem, it is okay to admit it and even call someone out on it, in a non-confrontational way of course.


Listening skills directly tie into hiring and retaining good staff. If we don’t make the time on the front end of the interview process to hear what a potential employee has to say, we might miss red flags and bring on someone who will not be a good fit. It can take numerous interviews to really learn about a prospective new team member. It is important to take that time. If we don’t, the team will ultimately suffer. Similarly, once we have successfully on-boarded a new member of our team, if we don’t listen to their feedback, they might think we simply don’t care. It can be difficult to hear suggestions that require us to change the way we do things, but each new employee brings knowledge and experience that our team could benefit from. Checking in with them during their first weeks and month are important pieces to their success and integration with the team. Be sure to set aside time for these conversations.


Finding ways to help your supervisors to grow their skills is key to the success of any organization. Whether it’s listening, coaching, fiscal management or something else, the investment in your supervisors, your middle management team, is invaluable. As the research tells us, one of the major reasons people leave a job is because of their supervisor – and it is also one of the reasons they stay!