I’d been in aquatics for what I considered to be a long time and had just taken a job at a great new facility. Having been the new person at more than one place and having tried a variety of introduction tactics, I was confident that this time I would get it right. This time I would have the lifeguard staff trained, happy and willing to work with me in no time flat. This time would be perfect.
Once I’d met the staff and introduced myself, I set up head lifeguard and manager meetings. I was planning to meet with each employee individually and test out the newest version of my interview questions, then get feedback. I thought all of these things would solidify my place in their hearts as the best boss ever.
How wrong I was.
Shortly after my in-service training, in which I spoke at length about how I wanted the best aquatics staff and how important it was to lead by example, I was approached by one of my senior staffer members. He said I was coming on too strong and needed to adjust my tone. We talked at length about what he thought I should do. I asked for his support in my efforts and promised to try to tone it down a bit. Still confident, I forged ahead.
Next, I met in smaller groups with head lifeguards and managers. We talked about how things were going at the six-week mark. We then reviewed my new hiring process. I asked for help to evaluate it and said I’d be taking them through the process as a dry run. When the meeting was over, the same employee came to me stating that the entire staff now felt threatened by me.
Now the wind had left my sails. How could they be feeling threatened? Who was this “everyone”? I was heartbroken. I decided to meet with everyone one on one, so I could get to the bottom of it.
And so I met with each and every one of my 60-plus staff members. We talked about how they wanted to be managed, what their goals were and what they’d like to see me do for them and the department. It didn’t seem as if people were threatened by me. In fact, many of them said I was doing a much better job than the last person. At this point I had not heard one word from my vocal employee about the general feeling from the group. I was sure everything was good.
Then I got the e-mail: “Would you please make some time to talk to me? This is very important.” I met with this employee and was told that everyone is going to quit because I wasn’t listening. He told me that everyone thought I’d basically instituted the Spanish Inquisition. I thanked the employee for his opinion and quietly slunk into a hole.
I had tried so hard to do everything right. Where had I gone wrong? Would I ever be able to recover from this horrible thing I’d done to my staff?
The answer I found was “yes.” It wasn’t “everyone” who disliked my style and methods. It ended up being only three lifeguards, and they were friends. Eventually, they quit. I hired some new people and things went along swimmingly.
Some of the older staff members grew to like me; those who didn’t, left. But, in the end, I was just fine.