A former coworker and now a friend of 17 years, and I met for lunch this past week. She is one of those friends that you don’t see often but when we do it’s like no time has gone by. This is due in part that we worked for the same organization where I eventually became her supervisor and attended the same nursing school one semester apart. As catch-up conversations tend to go, the discussion veered to our professional lives.

I had mentioned how I transitioned to consulting and coaching. She had asked if I ever saw myself returning to the bedside as a nurse. My response was that I wasn’t opposed to it, but found that my skill set flourished and made me feel as though I was making a greater impact in more operational roles. She had recently transitioned from working in acute care to ambulatory care and had mentioned that she had no desire to work in a supervisory role and liked “being a worker bee”. From there we discussed how worker bees are the most essential part of the workforce and keep organizations running…and existentially the world. 

I brought up how about half of my time was spent supporting the worker bees in varying forms when working in operational and leadership roles. Dating back to my first role as a supervisor over 15 years ago, where I made many mistakes that I learned from, the one thing I did right was supporting the worker bees. Before I ever heard the term “servant leader”, I knew that as long as I supported, listened, and learned from those doing the work everything else would fall into place. My friend went on to state how the managers she had that supported the worker bees did not typically last long in their roles and were consequently escorted out of the building for reasons unknown. 

This comment led to some reflection on my part later in the day. In my inner Carrie Bradshaw voice – Is it possible to primarily be a servant leader in front-line or middle management? Is there a link between being a servant leader for front-line staff and not being a good supervisor? As I further reflected on experiences, observations, and feedback, I recognized that there is definitely a challenge associated with that leadership style.

I think that front line and middle managers have a unique challenge of needing to ensure the day-to-day job is being carried out by their charges in the most proficient manner possible, but also have an awareness of the big picture and be able to improve and incorporate those day-to-day functions into the bigger plan of the organization. It is a proverbial balance of serving two masters if you will. This is not to say that other supervisory roles do not have this challenge, but one has to admit that the more senior the role, the less contact one has with front-line staff members.

Upon further reflection, I started to think if the bigger plan aligns with day-to-day operations, why is there a balance to disrupt?