WesCare Professional Services
10-A Oak Branch Drive
Greensboro, NC 27407-2995
(336) 272-8335

WesCare Professional Services

Archive for authority

Authority: Why You Need It and How to Get It

AuthorityWhether you’re a parent, guardian, or caregiver, a title alone does not make you a respected authority figure. It’s the actions that you take over an extended period of time, combined with your given position, that make the difference. If you’re struggling in your role as an authority figure, read on to learn what changes you can make to step up to the plate, and transform the lives of those you lead and/or care for.

How to Establish Yourself as an Authority Figure

It’s important that you establish yourself as an authority figure right away. One step in that direction is to create a solid structure (as was discussed in the first article of this series) in the environments of those in your care. They must know exactly what’s expected of them and given limits. Beyond that, they must also be made aware of the consequences they will face if the boundaries set for them are crossed, and held accountable if they are.

Now what if you’ve already lost respect as an authority figure? It this is the case, don’t worry; you can turn over a new leaf. Establish structure, review the rules and apologize for not being as disciplined as you should have been. Then reassure those in your care that you will be more diligent in exercising your responsibilities.

Setting Consequences

To establish yourself as an authority figure, you must be able to issue reasonable consequences related to the unacceptable behaviors in question. You must also consistently carry those consequences out.

As an example, let’s look at the legal system and continue our traffic analogy from last month.

Say a highway patrol officer catches someone speeding and gives them a ticket. There’s a system in place that ensures the ticket will be paid, or dire penalties will ensue.  Having such a system helps position the officer as an authority figure. He or she has the ability to deliver a consequence and follow through on it.

However, if the courts were lax when it came to issuing traffic fines, license suspensions, or arrest warrants; and if insurance agencies never increased the premiums of driver’s who broke the rules—it’s likely even fewer people would take the laws of the road to heart.

As caregivers, you are the policemen and women, those troopers who enforce the structures and rules of the land. You have to be able to issue consequences, stand firm in those consequences, and have them carry some weight. Otherwise, the lines between who’s in charge and who’s not will become blurred, and the hitting, screaming, destruction of property, and other challenging behaviors, will only increase.

How to Set Consequences

What’s the number one rule for setting consequences?

Do not make promises you cannot keep.

Doing so will surely erode your own authority. Once those under your care get wind that you’re constantly making threats you can’t possibly implement (No TV—forever!), they won’t take you seriously. You’ve proven that you do not mean what you say or say what you mean.

It’s important to note here that disciplining while angry is NOT OK. Think before you speak or before delivering a consequence. Take five minutes or more to figure out what you’re going to say and/or do. Ideally, you should look at what you’ve written down as a consequence for the type of behavior expressed. An officer, for example, no matter how mad he or she gets, cannot tell a person they stop for speeding that they will be locked away in jail for life for cursing at them. There are written rules and procedures to follow. You should have a plan in place as well to help determine the best consequence to dole out.

Only set consequences you have the power to enforce, and follow through every time. This will build trust in the eyes of those under your care, it will show that you can’t be pushed around, and will help you to be seen as someone worthy of respect.

Structure

StructureAt WesCare, we have been providing the same services for more than ten years. In that period of time, we have been granted the opportunity to work with some of the state’s most challenging cases – adults and adolescents that many agencies wouldn’t accept or discharged shortly after accepting them due to severe behaviors. The system that has proven to be the most successful for us is one that involves 3 key components: Structure, Authority, and Motivation. Over the next 3 months, I will attempt to break down each area and explain why it’s important and why one can’t work without the others.

By definition, a structure is “a framework of identifiable elements which give form and stability, and resists stresses and strains.” (BusinessDictionary.com) All structures should have clearly identified boundaries and/or rules that explain how the individual elements interact with each other as well as within the structure itself.

Structures exist all around us and help shape our behavior in almost every aspect of life. For example, each city or town has streets; these streets set boundaries that shape our behavior while we drive our trucks, cars and motorcycles. They also have signs and lights that remind us of rules that we are to follow while we move about this structure, such as how fast we can drive, when to stop, when to go, etc. This is all designed to control the flow of traffic. Can you imagine our roadways and highways if people could drive anywhere they wanted, as fast as they wanted, in any direction they wanted? Driving a car would be a far more risky prospect without the current structure in place.

We operate group homes in a very similar fashion. There are restricted areas for residents (like someone else’s room or the office where confidential information is kept), there is a certain time of day for just about anything residents need or want to do such as:

  • Breakfast at 7:30am
  • Chores at 8:00am
  • School/Work at 9:00am
  • Lunch at 12:00pm
  • Free-time at 4:00pm, etc.

This routine dictates the flow of traffic in the home, so-to-speak, much like the signs and lights in the traffic example above. Many of the people we work with who come to us have never been introduced to a home structure or were in a structure that had no recognized authority figure.

So how is structure established? Some people prefer a simple “To-Do-List” others use detailed schedules. The preferred method for establishing structure in a household starts with a calendar-based schedule. Insert the items on the calendar that can’t be controlled first, such as school, work, football practice, etc. Schedule those items that can be controlled around these events, such as activities, chores, dinner, etc. Use a different color ink for each individual, as kids of different ages may go to different schools, have different hobbies or sports they are involved in. The different colors make it easy for each individual to quickly identify his or her responsibilities. Take some time to explain each person’s responsibilities so expectations are clear.

As a word of caution, this only works for an established authority figure. Being a parent, teacher, guardian, coach are all titles and just because a person has a title doesn’t mean they have the authority that goes with it. Being a father or mother doesn’t make a person a parent, being an educator doesn’t make a person a teacher. A title is just a word, and having one doesn’t make a person an established authority figure and in order to establish and/or maintain a structure, a person has to establish his or her authority first. The importance of authority and how to establish it will be addressed next month.