Promoting someone before they are prepared is a mistake many managers make. It happens even more often in aquatics because of the youthful seasonal staffs, which make up the majority of our work force. I learned the hard way what can develop when this occurs.
During my first six months as manager, I was starting to breathe some life into the aging building and programming. I came from a facility that had a well-established leadership structure of senior and lead guards. I thought that was what we needed here.
I chose two of the most senior staff members and interviewed them for positions as lead guards. My superiors and I knew that they weren’t quite ready for the position, but upon my insistence that I could make it work, we promoted them anyway.
Not long after that, things took a turn for the worse. The new lead guards were taking advantage of their supervisory abilities and destroying the other staff members’ already low morale. They were using the lifeguards they supervised to do the work they were assigned to complete.
On top of that, they treated these guards with a lack of respect and general dismissal of all their comments and concerns. In one case, they had all the guards scrub the pool deck without direction to do so, or my OK. I later learned that these same supervisors then threatened the underling guards, saying that if they complained to me, they would be fired.
After these behaviors were discovered, the truth came to light: These guards weren’t ready for supervisory responsibility. To make matters worse, they had lost the trust of other staff members.
Their demotions led to one being terminated for multiple verbal altercations with patrons and staff. One of those included an argument with a patron in which the guard told the patron, “You are stupid, and stupid people shouldn't swim.”
The other guard was listed as a non-rehire after he went off to college. I learned quite a few lessons in my first years as a professional, but none have hit as hard as what happens when young staff members get promoted too soon.