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What Even Is the Supervisor Strengths Institute?


Most of you have gotten your students back on campus for the fall term, so as the craziness of August winds down I wanted to switch our focus onto how you can capture the true essence of back-to-school – growth and knowledge. Our fall Supervisor Strengths Institute starts on September 18th. I realized that I’ve often mentioned the Institute, but I haven’t really gone into depth about that experience. I want to do that here. If you’ve been curious about the Supervisor Strengths Institute, I’m going to walk you through what it looks and feels like here.


If you’re a supervisor – new or experienced – you know how stressful it can be. Not only are you responsible for your own to-do list, but it seems like you’re responsible for everyone else’s too. And if you’re like most supervisors, you haven’t gotten much training on how to do that effectively. Supervising can absolutely be a great experience, but even in the best situation it’s often accompanied by extra stress. All these folks walking around doing things differently than you would, getting into their feelings about it, and possibly not doing what needs to be done can be exhausting. But other than being exhausted, pushing through, and hoping what’s-his-name quits, what can you do?


That’s the question Alicia and I asked ourselves as we started Strengths University. We’d been supervisors in Higher Ed for years. We loved parts of being a supervisor, but the challenges often felt so heavy. And not just heavy, but so distracting. It seemed like when there was an issue with a team member, that overshadowed everything else. The Supervisor Strengths Institute is the culmination of years of experience and research focused on guiding supervisors on how to better understand themselves, their team, and what effective supervisors do. We developed this program, because we wanted folks to be able to maximize those peak experiences and minimize the hassle and headaches. In a nutshell, we wanted supervisors to feel more empowered and less stressed.


So that’s the nutshell, but what even IS the Supervisor Strengths Institute? I mean, you’re busy, right? And you just got past one of the busiest times of the year. Wouldn’t it be better to just sit back and catch your breath? Well, as much as one can catch their breath in Higher Ed. Lol. Sigh. So why is this something you should even consider investing your time and energy into doing?


I’d start by saying that while we cover many topics throughout the Institute, at its core we focus on energy management. Energy is your most valuable resource. If you feel tired and overwhelmed, then energy management is an issue for you. In fact, that’s what we focus on the very first week – what energy is, where your energy is going, and how to better align your energy with your goals and values. We start there and all the other modules build on it. When you better understand yourself, your Strengths, and how to effectively supervise, you can protect your most valuable resource and stop wasting your energy on things that don’t matter. By the end of the Institute, you’ll have the knowledge and tools you need to maximize your energy and your team.


That’s a big picture view, but I want to walk you through what this experience looks like. Again, you’re busy, so I want to give you a realistic view of what’s involved. The Supervisor Strengths Institute is an eight-week program that combines online, asynchronous learning modules with group and individual coaching. We landed on eight weeks because it’s long enough to let folks learn and absorb the material over time, which is better for learning. But since it’s half the time of a traditional semester, we can avoid the busiest parts of the term for most folks. We start the fall Institute mid-September, because for most folks that’s when things have died down from the back-to-school push. And at eight weeks, we’ll end the week before Thanksgiving. That means you’ll be able to focus on wrapping up the end of the term.


We start the institute with a group call on Monday, September 18th at 2PM (CST). The first call is an introduction to the program where we walk folks through what’s expected and do some introductions to give everyone a chance to see who’s on the journey together. The cohort experience adds so much to the Institute because everyone can share their own experiences and see that they aren’t alone in the issues they’re facing. Plus, it’s a great networking opportunity. The Institute is eight weeks, but you get nine group calls. Again, that first call is an introduction. That’s also when you jump into the first week’s content, energy management. On each week’s call after that, we’ll focus on that week’s topic. Everyone brings their thoughts and questions, and we discuss it as a group. It helps everyone further absorb the information and think about ways to implement it. I’ll just add that we record all the calls, because we know sometimes things come up and you might not be able to make it live.


Let’s talk about those online modules. There are eight different learning modules, and a new one becomes available each week. We structure it that way because even though some folks would love to work ahead, we want folks to sit with the content for at least a week to really reflect on it and think about how to actually implement it. So many training courses focus on transferring knowledge, but that’s only the first step. How many trainings have you done, or books have you read that really resonated with you, but you never actually put anything into action? If you’re like us, a ton! That’s why we really want you to focus on putting things into action. There are worksheets for each week’s module to help you reflect and create an action plan to make the changes that will improve your life.


So how much time does it take to work through each module? Excellent question! Each module is broken down into three lessons. Those lessons vary in length, but overall, it’s about 60-minutes of content. When you add doing the worksheets in – which we absolutely recommend, that’s another 30 minutes. Part of it depends on how deep you get into the worksheets. Since we’re focusing on implementation, we wanted to give you reflection prompts and tools to help break the content down and put things into action. Some of those worksheets can be done as you watch the videos, but others might ask you to add onto them throughout the week. None of this takes a ton of time, it’s just about setting aside the time and being consistent. One great way to stay on track is to go through it with a team member, or even your whole team. If you do, there’s a discount for additional team members.


Now, I mentioned the first week is Energy Management, so I just wanted to briefly walk through the rest of the curriculum. Week two, we dive into Strengths. Everyone who registers gets a code to take the CliftonStrengths talent assessment and gets the Report for Managers. That report is fantastic for supervisors because it gives you your Top 10 Talent Themes – aka Strengths, and it gives you insights and action items that are focused on your specific talents in your supervisor role. If you’ve never taken the assessment before, it’s a powerful tool to better understand yourself and others. If you’ve already taken it, you can choose to upgrade your past results with the new report or retake it to see if things have shifted. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how much I love this tool. But if you haven’t, I’ll just say that while there are absolutely external pressures in our lives, when you better understand your talents and how they’re showing up you can see how much of the stress you feel is actually internal. The CliftonStrengths framework allows you customize this content for you and what you do best, and help you make a game plan to keep you from getting in your own way.


Week three we talk about Stress Management & Self Care. This is a hot topic, but we have a wholistic take on it. Stress is a physiological response. You can’t just think your way out of it or push through it. The chronic stress most of us feel doesn’t just make us feel tired, it directly impacts the quality of our decisions, our relationships, and our productivity. We talk about how to renew and reset your energy AND how to make the things that currently stress you out less stressful. If you take nothing else away from this experience but being less stressed, you will automatically be a better supervisor.


In week four, we dive deeper into your Strengths to discover your Authentic Leadership Style. That means how your talents combine to make you the unique leader you are. When folks become supervisors and get into leadership positions, there’s often a stress that they should be good at everything and know everything, but that’s simply not true. The best leaders are the ones that focus on the things they do well and surround themselves with folks who do other things well. We’ll help you figure out what that is for you and how you can use it to prioritize and become more productive.


Now you may have noticed that the first four weeks really haven’t focused on your team at all. That’s absolutely correct! That’s because your biggest obstacle to being an effective supervisor is YOU. I know when Fred isn’t pulling his weight or Kesha isn’t getting her work done on time it SEEMS like your employees are the problem. But here’s the thing. Whatever issues you have with your team, someone else wouldn’t have those issues. Why? Because they have different talents, beliefs, and skill sets. You need to understand where you are and what’s going on in your head that’s getting in the way of being the leader and supervisor you want to be. The second half of the Institute jumps into the systems you need to put into place to effectively supervise. BUT if you’re stuck in your own stories or your talents keep showing up as weaknesses, you’re not going to be able to implement those systems.


Okay, so let’s jump into the last four weeks. Week five we talk about how to coach your team members. For you and your team to be effective, you need to meet with all your team members regularly. You need to be a coach, not a boss. When you’re super busy, that seems impossible, but that’s why we do all that work in the first half of the Institute. It’s to help you understand where you’re being productive and where you’re not. It’s so you can start reprioritizing and maximize what you and your team do each day to get to your goals faster.


Week six is a continuation of how to talk to your team. We dive into performance management, specifically setting clear expectations and holding folks accountable. If I had to pinpoint the most stressful thing for supervisors, it would be this last item – accountability. Most of us don’t know how to do it well and are uncomfortable even thinking about it, so it just gets put off. This wastes your energy, their energy, and other members of your team if they have to pick up the slack. We’ll talk about how you can effectively keep your team moving in the same direction and on the same page.


In week seven, we’ll talk about managing change. Nearly everyone we work with tells us that, “Our institution is going through a lot of change.” The problem is that change is inevitable, but our brains HATE change! Why? Because it takes too much energy – which we’ll talk about that first week. We think about it rationally, as doing things differently. But that’s not how our brain thinks about change. So, when we go through change on campus, we don’t set up our teams for success. In this module, we’ll talk about how to work through change in a way that doesn’t freak out your and your team’s brains, so you can do it more quickly and without so much stress.


Then finally, we finish up with a recap of everything we covered. And I’ll let you know right now that we cover a TON. But the reason we do a wrap up week, is because we do not expect you to immediately put all of this into action. Why? It’s the very thing I just told you. Your brain hates change and will absolutely stop you if you try to do all of this at once. We cover so much because everyone going through the Institute needs different things at different times. We tell folks from day one, focus on the things that resonate with you and start there. Then go back and see what you need next. You have lifetime access to these modules, so you can go back and watch what you need when you need it. The point of the wrap up is for you to choose that one thing and create an action plan to implement it after our time together is done. We don’t just want you going through the Institute. We want you to start making the changes that will give you a better life.


The last component of the Institute is the individual coaching, or as we call it, Success and Accountability Calls. Every participant gets three 30-minute calls. You get one for the first half of the Institute, one for the second half, and then one after we wrap up to make sure you’re still moving forward. These calls are for you to talk to Alicia or me about anything in the Institute, about your Strengths, or that’s going on with your team or at your Institution. We can help you problem solve or create the systems you need to create the life you want.

Our goal for everyone in the Institute is for you to feel more empowered because you understand yourself better, your talents, and you have the tools you need to become a more effective and less stressed supervisor. I will also add, this is a great opportunity to reflect on the next steps for your career. If you’ve been wondering whether you should stay in your current role or start looking, this experience will help you with that process and make you a better candidate.


If this sounds like something you need, we’d love to see you this fall. You can get more details and register here https://learn.strengthsuniversity.org/Fall2023Institute. If you have questions, just shoot me an email at anne@strengthsuniversity.org. The fall Institute starts on Monday, September 18th, so if you’re interested be sure to register soon!

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