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Critical Issues in Leadership Development for Peer Support Specialists

Abstract

This paper is a qualitative analysis of perspectives on leadership development among working peer support specialists and highlights the challenges, needs and efficacy these individuals experience in their work settings. Six participants engaged in a 2 h semi-structured focus group. Participants were guided through a series of nine questions regarding their transition to leadership, professional communication and relationships. Seven themes emerged: managing dual relationships; having difficult conversations; push and pull of leadership; taking responsibility for others; taking responsibility for self-care; addressing stigma in the workplace, and, spirituality/a calling to help. These professionals integrate their personal experiences of recovery into their direct care and leadership approaches in the workplace. This blending of recovery concepts and supervision approaches reflect some of the powerful elements that peer recovery specialists are uniquely qualified to lead in the healthcare workforce. These findings provide important implications for leadership development among this growing segment of the healthcare workforce.

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Correspondence to G. Trey Jenkins.

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Appendix

Appendix

Leadership & Supervision Focus Group Questions

Introduction to Focus Group

First off, congratulations on completing the Leadership and Supervision course and thank you all for participating in today’s focus group. My name is Trey Jenkins and this is Nicole Janich. We will be facilitating today’s discussion.

Why Are we Conducting Today’s Session?

  • To learn more about your individual experiences working as a peer in a leadership role.

  • Additionally, there is a gap in research regarding peers in leadership and it is our goal to write and publish a paper based on your experiences in the course and today’s discussion.

To Give you an Idea About how the Focus Group will Proceed, we would like to go over the General Structure and Guidelines

  • During the activity, we are going to ask a number of questions designed to get a picture of your experiences working as a peer in leadership.

  • We will ask questions in two broad categories including, intrapersonal (self/internal) and interpersonal (relationships with colleagues and staff both peer and non-peer),

  • Feel free to share your thoughts and feelings openly. All results and future discussion will be anonymized.

  • Please know that there is no right or wrong answers to any questions. We are interested in your honest experiences and opinions.

  • Our session will be audio-recorded so that we can go back and listen to them later. Please speak one at a time and think about the recording and me taking notes as simply an extension of my memory. If you are uncomfortable being recorded, you may leave the room at any time.

  • We will keep your comments confidential and your names will not be associated with any reports.

Process for Focus Group Discussions

  • We have a series of questions. we will ask a question to prompt a discussion, invite you all to discuss, and ask follow up questions if necessary.

  • We invite you to talk with each other.

  • Sometimes, I may jump back into the conversation and direct it to go another way.

  • Today, we have scheduled two hours for the discussion. We may or may not use the entire amount.

  • Are there any questions before we begin?

OPENING

To get started we would like to begin with everyone introducing themselves and tell us how many years you have been working as a PSS and when you transitioned to a leadership role. By leadership role, we generally think of someone who is supervising or guiding other individuals and/or making decisions or contributing to the decision making process for an organization or program. How many of you are working in a leadership role such as that which I just described?

QUESTIONS

Intrapersonal

Transition from Peer to Leader: Next, we would like each of you to please describe your personal experience in peer support.

  1. 1.

    People become interested in working as peer support specialists for a variety of reasons and motives. Tell me about some of the reasons or motives that each of you had that lead you into this line of work.

    1. a.

      Had you worked in a helping profession before becoming a peer support specialist?

    2. b.

      How long did you work as a peer support specialist?

  2. 2.

    In order to participate in the leadership course, each of you had to document that you are currently, or are about to be promoted into a leadership role within your agency. Tell me about the circumstances under which you transitioned from a worker role to a leadership role?

    1. a.

      Had you sought this out, or did someone in the company approach you?

    2. b.

      How would you describe the feelings or emotions you experienced at the time that this transition opportunity was presented to you? (cues: Nervous? Confident? Excited? Scared?)

    3. c.

      How long after you had been promoted to a leadership role was it before you began to feel confident in your new role? In what capacities in this new role do you feel more confident? Less confident?

  3. 3.

    Thinking only about your own health, emotions, recovery, knowledge and skills, what are some of the challenges and barriers that you experienced as you transitioned into this new role?

    1. a.

      What are some of the challengers & barriers you continue to struggle with?

  4. 4.

    Thinking only about your own health, emotions, recovery, knowledge and skills, what have been some of your personal areas of growth and development?

    1. a.

      What have you learned about yourself that you didn’t know before?

    2. b.

      What areas of personal growth and development do you still hope to realize?

    3. c.

      In what ways have you surprised yourself?

Interpersonal

Professional Relationships and Communication: Moving into a leadership role often brings about changes in how we relate to others, including our partners, family members, coworkers, and others in leadership positions. I want to turn our attention now to your interpersonal interactions, both inside and outside of the workplace.

  1. 1.

    Sometimes when we get promoted into a leadership role, we find ourselves now supervising or directing the work of former coworkers. By a show of hands, how many of you have or are now supervising people who used to be your coworkers?

    1. a.

      What was that experience like for you during the first few months after your promotion?

    2. b.

      How would you describe the nature of those relationships now?

    3. c.

      What did you and your former coworkers do to improve these types of relationships, or what would you recommend other do who find themselves in these situations?

  2. 2.

    When we get promoted into a leadership position, we find ourselves developing a whole new set of peer relationships, or adjusting the nature of our relationships with other individuals who are also in a leadership role. By a show of hands, how many of you have had to develop relationships with new coworkers or supervisors as a result of your promotion? By a show of hands, how many of you find yourself working now with coworkers who are not in recovery? Exclusively (all coworkers not in recovery?) (all coworkers in recovery?) (a mix of coworkers?)

    1. a.

      What was that experience like for you during the first few months after your promotion?

    2. b.

      How would you describe the nature of those relationships now?

    3. c.

      What did you and your new set of coworkers or supervisors do to improve these types of relationships, or what would you recommend to others who find themselves in these situations?

    4. d.

      How has your former status as a peer support specialist (or knowledge of recovery status) affected these relationships?

  3. i.

    Do you feel that you are treated differently because your coworkers know you are in recovery?

  4. ii.

    Describe the nature of that different treatment?

  5. 1.

    Probe: Coddled? Excluded from meetings, discussions, decision making opportunities? Treated with “kid gloves”? Performance expectations that were less than or more than others? Disrespected?

  6. iii.

    What did you and your former coworkers do to improve these types of relationships, or what would you recommend others do who find themselves in these situations?

  7. e.

    How would you compare the nature and quality of the relationships you have with your coworkers who are also in positions of leadership, as compared with your coworkers when you were a peer support specialist?

  8. i.

    Probe: More professional; less personal; more task oriented; more guarded; less supportive

  9. 3.

    Thinking only about the interpersonal interactions you have with your former and your current coworkers and supervisors, what are some of the challenges and barriers that you experienced as you transitioned into this new role?

    1. a.

      What are some of the challengers & barriers you continue to struggle with?

  10. 4.

    Thinking only about the interpersonal interactions you have with your former and your current coworkers and supervisors, what have been some of your personal areas of growth and development?

    1. a.

      What have you learned about yourself that you didn’t know before?

    2. b.

      What areas of personal growth and development do you still hope to realize?

    3. c.

      In what ways have you surprised yourself?

Ending Question and Wrap up

  1. 1.

    Is there anything we have not discussed that you would like to mention?

Thank you all for participating in our discussion today. If you have any questions regarding the focus group that we did not cover today, please contact us by email or phone (Facilitators provide their business cards to participants).

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Jenkins, G.T., Shafer, M.S. & Janich, N. Critical Issues in Leadership Development for Peer Support Specialists. Community Ment Health J (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-020-00569-9

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Keywords

  • Peer support
  • Leadership
  • Supervision
  • Lived experience
  • Recovery