Kate McCarthy VSH reflection 1 – leader/follower dynamics

Reflection 1

Kate McCarthy


At Virginia Supportive Housing, the employees are divided up into teams under a department head. The three main teams are Property Development, which is responsible for the real estate acquisition and property renovation aspects of the housing process, Client Services, which coordinates and runs the supportive services aspect of the organization, and Mission Advancement, which runs the development and PR. Each department is headed by a Director, under whom there are various other employees carrying out specific functions. Additionally, there are various other smaller teams and positions, such as Finance, or the A Place to Start program, or the HR specialist, who maintain the day to day operations of the organization or the more specialized aspects that don’t fall under the main three departments. Finally, as VSH is based in Richmond, Charlottesville, and South Hampton Roads, these teams have members throughout the state, not just in the main Richmond office.

I intern in Mission Advancement, the smallest team. It’s just the Director, Chris, the Major Gifts Officer Arden, based in Hampton Roads, the administrative assistant Jonathan, and me. Additionally, we work occasionally with an outside consultant, Elizabeth.

The work is very autonomous. While Chris has created a loose series of tasks for me to do, how I go about them is up to me. For example, right now I am collected media about VSH and related to homelessness, both in Richmond and nationally. I will then figure out how best to store the media pieces. Chris hasn’t given any specific directions as to go about this process, so I started by collecting articles from the Richmond Times-Dispatch and organizing them into categories in my email. I will then look at local media in Charlottesville and Hampton Roads, then move into broader outlets. It’s exciting to have control over how to carry out a task, so I can do it in the way that feels most efficient and effective to me. I check in with Chris at the end of my day about what I’ve done, but other than that I do my own thing. I really appreciate this, because it shows he trusts what I’m doing and empowers me to not feel as though I need to constantly run things by him or ask him how he thinks I should be doing it.

This relatively casual leadership style towards employees is shared also by the Executive Director and the other directors. In reading a submitted grant proposal, I came across a section that included how the organization plans to grow and progress. Of the two strategies, one was “hire the best possible people.” While this may seem self-explanatory, in a small nonprofit context, the funds aren’t available to pay the salaries of large teams with several levels of supervisors to be checking in on how employees are getting on. This means the people who are hired must be able to work effectively on their own, and can’t be reliant on approval and direction from those above them to function. Thus, the directors are not constantly checking in on how things are going, because they’ve tried to hire the best possible people who will not need that. They trust their employees to get the job done, which informs how they interact with them. Both Chris, my boss, and Alison, the Executive Director, are really easy to talk to and treat you like an equal. I really enjoy this workplace already!


One thought on “Kate McCarthy VSH reflection 1 – leader/follower dynamics

  • July 25, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    I am glad you are enjoying the lack of specific direction on the project you’re working on; sometimes interns are uncomfortable without more direction/guidance/structure. So it sounds like work is distributed through the teams, but at least in terms of your team, once distributed – it is very much self-directed. Will be interested to hear, as you continue, the extent to which those not in leadership roles get to contribute and influence. Will also be interested to learn more about decision making. You’ve been given the freedom to decide how to approach your project, will be interested to learn how they make decisions about new communities, which cities/towns they’ll approach about projects, etc.) – whether these decisions are made across teams, by senior leadership, etc.

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