Hearts and heads

At the debriefing session that took place at the end of yesterday’s night shelter, we had an interesting discussion, loosely around the subject of hearts and heads and which should have the final or majority say when it came to making decisions that had a relevance on our own operation. Unsurprisingly, we did not reach firm conclusions but by airing the subject we were able to identify the issues and make (we hope and anticipate) appropriate and better informed decisions in the future, taking on board lessons learned.

Anyone who is involved in operations akin to ours, to do with people especially the more vulnerable, and many others in all sorts of contexts that have to deal with a plethora of matters that don’t quite lend themselves to following instructions in a manual (should one exist) may well identify with the challenges we face. I can think of all sorts of pertinent examples regarding our own operation which, while the details may not quite resonate with readers who haven’t had to deal with similar such situations, will I hope strike a chord and, more importantly, get you thinking about a principle you will have to grapple with if you are going to make serious inroads into helping vulnerable people, some of who follow chaotic lifestyles.

One example that springs to mind, while on the surface minor still had important consequences, had to do with admitting guests before we were officially open. It happened that last week it started to pour with rain as we arrived. It also happens that at our night shelter there is no nearby outside shelter from the rain. On our arrival, an hour before we were due to open, some of our guests were waiting outside. Without going into all the ins and outs, the geography of our building comprises a hall where guests eat and sleep, a kitchen where the volunteers hang out and where meals etc. are prepared and three toilets. Letting guests in early does affect our operation, including not being able to hold a team briefing before we officially opened. But do we let guests stand out in the pouring rain even when the opening times had been told to them or do we let them in? You guessed it – on this occasion the heart overruled the head and we let them in. What would you have done and WWJD?

I have been actively engaged in community work for fifteen years now and have observed all sorts of operations and organisations, some being more head orientated and some being more heart orientated and obviously the sensible reader might say that surely it is a matter of striking the right balance. The more discerning and skeptical might ask where does that balance lie? I don’t have a definitive answer, only my views from having observed. For the head case, there is a argument we would then have a well organised and controlled operation such that we can continue to provide a service, with the downside it attracts too many workers and volunteers not prepared to make that extra effort, or to use their initiative or show compassion to those who don’t quite tick all our boxes. For the heart case, there is the argument that we would provide individualized help and value added services to those who need them but we could end up with something shambolic and early worker / volunteer burn out. I’ve noticed that the powers that be in these matters tend to favour the head and is where they direct resources and money and what influences their decisions such as in the appointment of the management team. The punters (i.e. those who benefit from services offered), on the other hand, tend to favour the heart, responding to the bespoke service provided and the compassion and willingness to go the extra mile by those who purport to be providing a service.

I confess, I don’t have the final answer on these matters and try to consider both hearts and heads. Regarding those operations that are not my own, while I often have a view on where they are strong or weak and could do better, I would much rather focus on the job in hand, my own operation and encouraging partnership working. When it comes to my own operation, it is all a matter of balance. I would like around me those who are motivated to help, arising out of serving heart that reaches out with compassion to those most in need. Yet I would also like to work with those who are organised and disciplined, and are wise and discerning in their dealings. The challenge for me as a manger is to strike that happy balance and to facilitate all involved giving of their best under the circumstances.

WWJD = What Would Jesus Do – click here for more!

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