Parks and Recreation professionals are leaders. Some lead an entire department as a director; others lead a division as a superintendent and some lead a recreation center or parks crew as a supervisor. Leaders provide vision, goal setting, communication, encouragement, team building, discipline and recognition for those they lead. And, if they effectively do this, they will receive loyalty, staff buy-in, teamwork, a greater work product, higher staff performance and less employee turnover from their staff. Whoever you are leading, it’s important not to succumb to one of the following eight pitfalls that leaders commonly make.
#1 Failure to Develop & Communicate Vision, Mission & Core Values
All leaders should develop direction for the area they oversee. If you and your staff don’t know where you are going, then it will be hard for you to ever get there. And, this doesn’t have to be a complex process either. For the realm of Garland Aquatics, I came up with four core values that we strive for at our aquatic facilities. We want our facilities to be safe, clean, friendly & fun. These values are memorable, catchy and concise and provide my staff with direction every day. When they get to work, they know what the goal of the day is. And, remember not to just develop vision, but to communicate it. Use trainings, signage and repetition to get the message across to your staff. There’s nothing worse than developing values, and then failing to communicate them.
#2 Failure to Analyze Organizational Strengths & Weaknesses
Leader should take time to strategically analyze their organization or department for strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities for growth. The familiar SWOT analysis will help leaders to determine what they should maintain or enhance (strengths), what needs to be remedied or stopped (weaknesses), what needs to be prioritized and optimized (opportunities) and what others do better than they do that need to be countered or stopped (threats). It’s an informative and eye-opening process to go through as you can find out the areas to keep doing a great job in, as well as areas that need vast improvement. If you notice lackluster employee productivity, then you know that training is an issue that needs to be addressed ASAP. On the flip side, if staff is dynamic and creative then find ways to keep it that way and maintain their high level of performance, or even enhance it through continued professional development and recognition programs.
#3 Failure to Hire & Train Great People
If your organization has employees that are not living up to their expectations then it’s time to take a look at your hiring and training program. When it comes to hiring staff, you want to be picky and not settle for someone because they are the “best of the worst.” Don’t be afraid to open jobs to internal and external candidates. Even though it may slow down the hiring process by a few weeks, it will only increase your chances of getting a quality employee since you will have a bigger pool of applicants to choose from. During the interview process, ask descriptive and open-ended, behavioral-based questions that specifically relate to the organization’s vision and mission. These questions seek to understand how the applicant has performed in specific job related circumstances in the past, which will help you predict how they will perform in your organization under a similar set of conditions. Questions such as “Give me an example of a goal you reached and how you achieved it,” or “Describe an unpopular policy decision you had to make and how you implemented it” are a great start. And, if you need more examples, then perform an internet search for “behavioral interview questions” and you’ll find a plethora of options.
Once you hire your staff, don’t forget to train them! Use introductory trainings and ongoing development opportunities to communicate expectations to staff. Develop a comprehensive employee manual that sets forth the specific responsibilities they have and how to complete them. Set up a schedule of in-house professional development meetings for staff over the course of each year to revisit the manual and the responsibilities and expectations that come with their position. The more active you are in the training and development process, the less employee productivity issues you will have to deal with.
#4 Failure to Set Goals for Staff and Divisions
Once you initially hire and train great people, it’s time to make sure they have direction for their particular position. What do you want them to accomplish? Are there specific areas of their professional growth that you would like to see improvement in? What do they want to achieve in their position? Goal setting sessions are a great time to meet with your employees (individually, collectively, or both!) to make sure they are on the right track to achieve the organization’s vision, mission and values in the coming year. Once a few goals for the year are set, be sure to outline a “plan of action” which details specifically how each goal will be achieved.
#5 Failure to Actively Coach, Mentor and Supervise your Staff
Now that you have set goals for the great staff that you have hired and trained, let’s not forget to follow up on their progress. Supervisors should schedule regular meetings throughout the year to check in on their work productivity and goal progress. Try to be actively involved in their development and give them constant and specific feedback as it relates to their position and performance level. You can also have them do an individual SWOT analysis where they outline ways they can continually get better in their strong areas and improve upon their own personal weaknesses. If their weaknesses become a problem in the workplace and their productivity level isn’t where it should be, then address their poor performance immediately. Whether their poor performance is related to low productivity, a bad attitude, or a lack of teamwork, always discipline and correct the behavior. Don’t be afraid to have crucial conversations where you are open, honest and candid with your employee. Going through the discipline process definitely isn’t the most enjoyable experience for supervisors, but it is an essential one in order to create the most productive work team possible.
#6 Failure to Promote Teamwork Among Your Staff
Creating a team environment in the workplace is one of the most difficult things for leaders to achieve. Whether you are leading a team of five or fifty-five, you need to be intentional about making sure everyone works as a team, and feels like they are part of the team. A simple way to start the team building process is to schedule regular all-staff meetings with members of the team throughout the year. Hopefully, when team members interact with each other on a consistent basis, they will act like more of a team. At your first meeting of the year, divide your employees into teams whom they will have to work with for the entire year. Assign each team one or two division-wide projects that you would like completed and have them work as a group to finish the task. The helps you delegate a task that you are too busy to complete, and helps your employees learn how to work together. Check in on each team throughout the year and help them work through any issues they may be having. There’s no perfect way to get a diverse team of personalities to work well together, but using this team method is a great start!
#7 Failure to Encourage & Recognize Your Employees
Sometimes organizational leaders get so caught up in what their job requires and what they need to accomplish that they forget to look at the accomplishments of others. Leaders always need to remember to continually encourage their team and recognize them for their achievements. Whether it’s a simple thank you note and a pat on the back, or providing lunch at the next all-staff meeting, make sure to acknowledge the hard work your team puts in on a regular basis, and tie it into your organizational vision, mission and values. Instead of just saying “great job” when a team member does something outstanding, say “Great job on the risk management survey because that helps us achieve our vision or being a safe organization.” This helps to give meaning and purpose to the work of the team member and helps them to see the overall value of their contribution. On the other hand, if you fail to recognize your team, you could be leading your employees to burnout, instead of increased productivity. As Matt Heller of Performance Optimist Consulting says, “I think burnout comes more from not understanding how important your job is, not feeling like you are part of a team, and not having a connection with your coworkers or your company.”
#8 Failure to Lead by Example and Outstanding Conduct
Leaders are often defined as being communicators, the “go-to” person, open-minded, problem solvers, organized, goal-driven and hard working. These are all true, but they leave out one distinct characteristic that all successful leaders have, care. You could embody all of the traits above, but if you don’t care about your team then you will not be an effective leader. Because to put it bluntly, nobody likes working for a jerk! If you aspire to be an organizational leader, make sure you care about those you lead. Caring starts by the way you treat your team when you request them to do a task. Do you say “please” and “thank you” or do you merely give orders? Are you willing to do the exact same work that you’ve requested them to do? Do you exhibit a great work ethic, or do you slack off on the job? These are just a few questions to evaluate yourself on as you seek to become a more effective leader, one that is kind, compassionate, respectful and honest and one who genuinely cares for those he leads.
Though this article merely scratches the surface on leadership qualities and characteristics, avoiding these eight pitfalls is a great place to start to realizing your potential as a great leader.