Leadership by Walking Around
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
It’s that time of season. Lifeguards and swim instructors are beginning to prepare for the next stage: returning to high school or college, entering college for the first time, taking a gap year, or beginning life after college.
For some it’s easy. For others, it can be paralyzing.
So what should I do? Immediately, I think of, “Whatever it takes to finish the season strong, with zero drownings and zero aquatic incidents.” That’s a good plan, but not good enough.
In addition to finishing out the season strong, I need to focus on staff retention, specifically for the 2024 season. How am I going to do this? By getting out, visiting and training with the staff, and making sure to convey some important messages.
Aquatics professionals are familiar with the term, “Management by Walking Around" (MBWA). I prefer, “LEADERSHIP by Walking Around.” I’m the leader, and I need to be engaging with the seasonal staff out at the sites.
I view my on-site engagement and interaction with the seasonal staff as support. I need them to know that I care about what they’re doing, and how they’re supporting each other and the communities they serve. I need to remind them that they’re part of a new team of water-safety professionals, who can lifeguard, teach swim lessons, and otherwise provide water-safety education and drowning prevention programming. I remind them that there is always a need to keep our communities safe in and around the water. I remind them that most Americans do not have the competence to swim or keep themselves safe when in the water and doing aquatic activities. I remind them that there is always a place for them here in the Lifeguard Service. I remind them there is still plenty to learn and plenty of places to work at and plenty to experience. I remind them one season is just the beginning at becoming more proficient in their rescue board skills, rescue tube skills, their rapid responses to emergencies, and their team rescues.
I also remind the lifeguards that they can further advance by working with us next season, whether at one of our 15 facilities, our Water Safety camps or instructing at one of our junior lifeguard programs. I encourage them to teach swim lessons or help us with our recruitment this coming fall and next spring. I point out that there are still opportunities to work our open water events, or become boat-certified or even personal watercraft-certified.
And then I talk to them about 2024.
I ask if they’re interested in stepping up and becoming a “Person in Charge” or a Lifeguard Training Instructor, being a Resource Training Officer at our academy or upgrading their first-aid certification to Emergency Medical Response. Again, it’s about informing them of options and opportunities when they return for the 2024 season.
Lastly, my seasonal staff needs to hear that I appreciate them for what they do and how they serve the community. I emphasize the importance of public service and how it makes a difference in our patrons’ lives. Helping the seasonal staff remember the value of what they provide to the community -- it’s enough for some seasonal staff to return next season.