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Monthly Manager Moments - by Greg Schmidt, Aquatics Manager


Monthly Manager Moments - Article #23

Leadership Through Service

The 1st in a series on leadership & management

Introduction - This article will begin a series on leadership and management.  These articles will share sound leadership principles and practices that I've learned over the last 40 years.  I was first promoted to Pool Manager at my home town's summer pool after my senior year in high school.  I worked there several summers and learned a lot of the basics of how pools are run.  It was a great place to start, because the operation was tiny; only 3-4 people worked there.  All of us were lifeguards who did maintenance, worked the front counter, and kept watch over the swimmers.  During the school year, I worked as a volunteer at the WSU pools, teaching kids to swim.  After college, I worked 8 years for a city on the west side of Washington State as Asst. Manager, then Manager.  After that I served as the Director of a small park district for 6 years.  Next, I served as Pool Manager and a high school teacher for 13 years in a small town near Seattle.  After that, I did a small stint as a salesperson for a pool equipment/service company in Seattle.  Next, I worked for the city of Seattle until I was about to be laid off due to budget cuts. That is what landed me here, where I've been for 6 years.  The reason for the history is to show the variety of experience I've had with management at different levels, and with different types and sizes of employers.  Having been a ground level subordinate, mid-level manager, and top level Director, I'd like to offer some principles that I hope will help you lead others.

What does the title of this article mean? -  What I've found over the years is that the leaders who people follow willingly, and even enthusiastically, are often servant leaders.  That is they lead by serving those under them, and have little interest in self-glorification or self-promotion.  They have a genuine interest in what's best for their subordinates, and not always what's best for themself.  That doesn't mean that they have no self-respect or confidence in their ability to lead, it simply means that they put the needs of those under them above their own.

Here's the first nugget: teacher vs. BOSS - As these two terms imply, who would you rather work for, a teacher or a BOSS (all caps)?  I think pretty much all of us would prefer the teacher - who shows us how to be successful, and accepts the responsibility for doing so.  BOSS is a four letter word that starts with B (so does a 5 letter word that can sometimes be a synonym for BOSS); whereas teacher is a lucky 7 letter word.  How many times have we as supervisors been frustrated with a subordinate's performance of a job task, when we should have realized that was really OUR fault that he/she didn't do it right?  If they have not been properly taught, they're likely to fail.  That's not their fault, it's ours.  We must take the time to teach our employees how to do the tasks that we expect them to do, and to do them to the standard that we expect.  We must also realize that although some employees may grasp certain tasks quickly, others may struggle with the same task.  That doesn't make them a bad employee, it might just mean that they need to be taught in a different way - and it's our job to do that.  When employees don't perform a task correctly, do we put on our "teacher hat" or our BOSS hat?  Only when they refuse to do it properly because they don't care, or they're just being stubborn do we need the BOSS hat.  Be patient, and provide sufficient repetitions for employees to really gain mastery of skills.  A servant leader is not in a rush to get the employee out on his/her own before he/she is comfortable and truly ready.  Ask yourself this question: "would I have enjoyed working for me today?"  If the answer is "probably not," or "heck no," you were probably wearing the boss hat too much and not wearing the teacher hat often enough!

Nugget #2: Hard on the problem, and soft on the person - I can't claim ownership of this one, but I love it never-the-less.  I credit this phrase credit to Gene Medina, a school administrator (superintendent) who I worked for while I was a high school teacher.  What a perfect example of a servant leadership approach!  Instead of a confrontational and antagonistic approach to tackling problems, we should come alongside the employee(s) involved and help them tackle it together.  Work hard on the problem, but be gentle with the people who are involved with it.  Even when an employee clearly caused the problem, think about "how would I want to be treated if I had caused this problem?"  Think about how you can approach the employee(s) softly, yet attack the problem as a team.  With your teacher hat on, explain the error calmly and define the correct behavior.  To really teach your employees, they need to understand the effect of their incorrect behavior and the effect of the change that you've defined.  Knowing why you have a specific way of doing something is very helpful.  The employee may not agree with why you're doing it that way, of course.   Ask if it makes sense,  "now that you know why we're doing it this way, does it make sense to you?"  If they say no, ask "how could we do this to make it better?"  You may very well discover that their way actually makes more sense than yours and the approach may need to be changed.  Another great thing to ask your employees is the common 2-part check-in question:  "what can I do to make your job easier, and what should I stop doing that's making it harder?"  One other point about being soft on the person: ask yourself if this is normal behavior for this specific person.  Many times an exemplary employee messes up because their life is a mess at the time, so they're having a hard time being focused, accurate, and cheery.  Instead of beating them up for poor performance, ask them, "hey, are you OK?  Is something going on away from work that is stressing you out?  Is there anything I can do to help?"  The last thing they need when suffering away from work is for you to come down on them like a ton of bricks.  Instead, come alongside and support them.  However, please don't pretend to care, if you really don't.  That will be obvious, as well as the fact that you probably aren't that good of a supervisor.  Great supervisors really DO care, and their staff knows it.  You don't need to have all the answers.  Heck, you don't even need to know what's wrong; just be genuinely there for them; and follow up with them to see how they're managing.  Have the contact information for crisis resources readily available, so if the employee needs it, you have it immediately available.

Nugget #3:  Value doesn't equal pay - This one may seem counterintuitive to you.  Because we see incentives, bonuses, and pay so often directly attached to an employee's value, what do I mean by this?  I've found that employees want to know that what they offer is valued, meaningful, and makes a difference.  They need to know their efforts are appreciated and recognized by their supervisor.  Although appreciation and recognition can come in the form of higher pay, I think it's really more important that we as supervisors pay attention to what our employees do and tell them why we appreciate it, and how valuable it is.  We must take the time to notice, and then take take the time to tell them that we noticed!  Here are the two magic words for being a great teacher and supervisor: pay attention!  Being able to describe great work that you've observed in detail and how much it helped the operation proves that you are watching, and that you really do value what they do.  But -  Aren't higher pay, bonuses, and incentives still indicators of how valued an employee is?  Of course.  We should always try to get the best pay and working conditions for our employees that we can within our available resources.  They need to know that we're always going to do that for them, and for it to be effective, we need to be transparent as to what resources we really have.  Here's an example in my own job:  I've been here six years now, and I've just now caught up to the wage I had in my last job six years ago.  Do I love my job anyway?  Yes!!  It's because my supervisor practices what I've just described.  It's more important to me to be appreciated for what I do than to get top dollar because I'm "so good."  I know that my supervisor gets me the best pay that he can within his available resources; so as long as I can pay the bills, why would I be unhappy?

 Nugget #4: Humble and Helpful - We've all heard the phrase "humility is a virtue."  As a supervisor, it's essential.   A supervisor who wants to be king and lord over his subjects is awful to work for.  On the contrary, a supervisor who "gets his hands dirty" and will do any task that he assigns to his subordinates, is a joy to work for - why?  Because you're working WITH him, not just FOR him.  No task should ever be deemed "beneath you" or "just for the grunts" to handle.  A humble and helpful supervisor is never on a pedestal, and always pitching in.  By always, I mean frequently enough that it is never a surprise, but just part of the routine.  It goes along way when subordinates see their boss doing "grunt work" willing and always being ready to jump in and help with it whenever needed.  Again, phony gestures are immediately recognized as such, and do more harm than good.  Look around and see where can I be truly helpful with some of the mundane, grunt work that is normally done by my subordinates.  One last point for this article - humility also means admitting when you're wrong, or when you handled something poorly and it resulted in hurting an employee's feelings.  Humility isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of integrity, and a demonstration that you're no more important than anyone else in the organization, just have a different job.


Greg Schmidt,

EWU Aquatic Center Manager

Question about leadership?  Email me at









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