The art of management is working with people to achieve desired
goals and objectives. In the world of aquatics, this often means
working with lifeguards and other staff members who are new to the
Effective managers recognize that building a team, communicating
needs, delegating tasks, providing ongoing feedback and evaluating
performance are all components of supervision.
Managers who take the time to get to know the people they work with
are generally in a better position to lead a performing team.
This is particularly true when dealing with teenagers. Teens want
to be trusted, to trust others, and to feel appreciated as
Recognizing these needs is the first step in building your
Don’t make promises you cannot keep, and lead by example. The
little things you do that show them you, too, are part of the team
will earn you credibility and respect. Saying “I cleaned
toilets when I was a lifeguard” is much different than
chipping in and cleaning toilets along with your staff, should the
Effective communication among your team is essential. If lifeguards
are too uncomfortable to speak up during in-service trainings, will
they be capable of speaking up during emergencies? To create a
supportive environment where everyone feels respected and valued,
strong managers build professional relationships of mutual trust
with their staffs. That means establishing an open climate wherein
people feel comfortable sharing ideas and concerns. Ask staff
members for input, and encourage experienced employees to mentor
and train new hires.
As a manager, your workload must get done through the people you
lead, and that means learning to delegate. Successful delegation
requires a clearly defined task, along with an explanation of
desired results. Asking a lifeguard to “clean the
bathroom” does not really define exactly how well the
bathroom should be cleaned. Supervisors must be very clear in
defining expectations. “Please bleach the toilets and sinks,
sweep the floor so that there is nothing on it, and then mop the
floor with the sanitizing solution. Don’t forget to empty the
trash and convenience containers, and restock all
When looking at assigning tasks, it’s also important to
consider that delegation provides employees with opportunities for
professional growth. For example, delegating responsibility for
portions of an in-service training are excellent opportunities for
employees to gain skills in organization, public speaking and
Of course, not all tasks are appropriate for all employees.
Carefully select members who will be successful in achieving
assigned tasks, and give them the responsibility and authority
needed to accomplish the task. Consider pairing senior team members
with less experienced staffers so that they, too, can learn.
Ongoing coaching and feedback is critical for any team. Feedback is
an essential part of learning and, consequently, of performance.
Here’s a basic feedback model to gently coach employees to
1. Assess readiness. Ask, “Can I give you
some feedback?” If employees are not ready to receive your
feedback, they simply won’t “hear” it. Sometimes
a cooling off period is needed before people are ready to receive
2. Describe behaviors. Provide specific examples
of behavior that gave rise to the need for feedback.
3. Explain the impact. Employees do not generally
intend to act irrationally or perform poorly. Sometimes they are
unaware of how their actions are perceived by others. Use
“I-statements” to share your concerns and thoughts as
to the behavior to be addressed, listing the specific impact of
4. Discuss next steps. Ask, “What can you do
differently?” Allow employees to take ownership of their
behavior and offer suggestions for improvement. Be prepared to
offer suggestions if employees are unable or unwilling to explain
what could be done differently in the future.
5. Express confidence. Bolster good will by
expressing your confidence that things will work out in the
While a seasonal or annual evaluation has value, ongoing evaluation
and coaching often is more effective because it is more likely to
yield immediate results.
Think of an evaluation as an incident report wherein you would
document only the facts, not personal opinions. Overall, evaluation
is most certainly subjective, but if you are measuring performance
against defined criteria that you’ve communicated, it becomes
a tool to encourage future performance rather than a retrospective
expression of personal opinion. An evaluation, while describing the
past, must remain focused on future performance.
When evaluating a staff member, provide examples of specific
behaviors, along with dates and times that support your evaluation.
This means taking good notes throughout the evaluation cycle so
that you are not left with completing an evaluation based upon your
“gut feeling” of an employee’s performance.
In sum, managers who show sincere interest and concern in their
employees often will achieve better results than managers who are
disconnected from their teams. Delegating tasks and providing a
clear understanding of outcomes helps prepare employees for
success. Providing ongoing coaching and support, in addition to
honest and factual employment evaluations, will help mentor and
grow your staff, leading to improved retention and high employee