INSPIRE the Groups You Lead!

Jeff Witman, Ed.D., CTRS
Collier Township Parks & Recreation

Effective group leadership is fundamental to success as a recreation professional. Groups can help (e.g., synergy) but groups can also hurt (e.g., groupthink).

Synergy = an interaction or cooperation giving rise to a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts (Wikipedia)

Groupthink = a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible. (Psychology Today)

 The leader can influence which way it goes. Here’s an acronym to focus on as you lead, facilitate, guide, coach, nurture, direct and serve the groups you work with. These 9 characteristics can make a difference!

I-N-S-P-I-R-E

I = Integrity

As Alan Simpson suggested, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters; If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” Fairness and honesty create a culture of integrity. Being genuine creates a bond with group members. Tip: Consider group agreements, as pictured below, to promote accountability. (These are from the leadership program at Dickinson College)

N = Nurturance

Leave people better than you found them. Be intentional about assessing where group members are and where they would like to be. You can’t nurture unless you know what’s needed and wanted. In addition, consider the creature comforts which make group gatherings more engaging and comfortable.  Tip: Establish a distinctive group identity. For example, Wellspan Philhaven chaplains recently developed the A-I-R (Acknowledge- Inspire- Reflect) frame of reference for their groups.

S = Support

Levels to consider- information, encouragement, honest feedback and assistance with tasks. The classic example with that last one: you’re moving, who shows up to help? Encourage group members to be of service to others- when you give you get! Tip- Spend some time with groups determining where they’re at. Any “baggage” they’re bringing along to your group?

P = Professionalism

The ideal- responsible, ethical and team-oriented. A key with this is focusing on the group (not on yourself) as you lead. Tip- Keep fairness in mind as you interact with the group. As Willie Stargell declared “Everybody is somebody!” Don’t let the “squeaky wheels” get all of the grease.

I = Innovation

While routines are important unless there’s novelty they will become ruts. Engage the group in determining how things can work better. Adopt an approach that change is an opportunity not a threat. Tip- Identify several aspects of a particular group where variety might spice things up- for example the music, the snack and the stretches for an exercise group. Engage participants in identifying alternatives for each and test them out in subsequent group sessions.

R = Resilience

Show some grit- persistence + passion = thriving not just surviving. Make some lemonade out of the lemons situations throw at you. Devote some effort to self-care recognizing that your effectiveness depends on being the best version of yourself. Tip- Model resilience with the attitude and actions you exhibit when “shift happens”. Demonstrate that “well-prepared people create their own weather” with a plan B or plan C that allows the group to cope not mope.

E = Energy, Empathy and Efficacy

With energy consider vitality, a combination of vim (the burst needed sometimes) and vigor (endurance). With empathy it’s about communicating your understanding of another person’s emotions. To promote efficacy determine and document that the groups you lead are, in fact, generating the outcomes you promote and promise. Tips- For energy consider a 30- minute limit on sitting during groups. With empathy institute a no disses approach where negativity about self or others is not allowed. Remember too that “silver lining” remarks are seldom helpful. If a participant says “My car needs a lot of repairs” and you say “At least you have a car” it’s not going to improve the situation. For efficacy find out if your goals are being met. With the recent Pickleball Camp at Collier Township for example the majority of participants have increased their amount of play.

A Case Study

The support group I was leading at Faith Friendship was not very supportive. Low morale, limited interaction and apparent disinterest. We needed a boost and found one with an activity that, amazingly, has been found to:

Relieve Stress

• Reduce Anxiety
• Improve Sleep
• Heighten Focus
• Improve Motor Skills
• Induce A Meditative State
• Relax your Brain and
  • Improve Brain Function

The answer was making the activity below a regular part of the group, integrating it into our themes and allowing group members to utilize it as a tool for coping. This activity, obviously, is not the answer for every group concern or problem. There are answers however if you’re willing to try new approaches. Find the attitude, activity or process that can revitalize and reinvigorate the groups you lead. it’s a win-win for participants and for you!

Coloring: Not just for kids anymore!

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A Day in the Life

by Jeremy Mortorff

Date: Any sweltering day in June, July, or August

Location: Unnamed aquatic facility in Central Pennsylvania

10:15am-Clocking in for the day

Getting in a little early for my shift today. Starting the day with adult fitness hour. Wonder how many fights I’ll have to break-up between the walkers and the lap swimmers? Can’t we all just get along?

10:30am-Grab my tube, hip pack, and head out to the stand

Looks like a pretty large group of patrons today for fitness hour. We have our regular lap swimmers and a few fresh faces. Must be because the local indoor fitness center pool is closed.

11:45am-Summer camp arrives

Ahhh yes, the influx of K-5 aged children. Hoping that the supervision is good today. We have summer camps from around the area that bring their groups to our facility on a weekly basis.

12:30pm-More people, more people

We are definitely reaching capacity today. That line at the admission desk hasn’t let up since we opened. Makes sense since it is the first 90 degree day we’ve had in a week or so. Hoping that the ”on-call” guard actually comes in today when requested…

2pm-I’m going in!!!

I scan my zone, left to right, top to middle, middle to bottom. Everything has gone great so far today. Parents have been really attentive, being right there within arm’s length of their children. Summer camp counselors have been outstanding. Other guards have been awesome too – addressing issues before they become large problems. I continue to scan…that child that just went down the waterslide…they look panicked. Their eyes are bugging out…they’re stuck in the current at the bottom of the slide…TWEET-TWEET-TWEET!!!

2:05pm-Paperwork

One of the responding guards carries a clipboard with a rescue report and we locate the adult responsible for the child. They are shocked that their child required saving. I explain that the current at the bottom of the water slide is very strong and that can sometimes present issues, even for a decent swimmer. We have the adult help us fill out the report. They tell the child they’ll have to skip the slide until they can get out of the current successfully. The adult thanks us for being there to keep their child safe. This makes it worth it!

4pm-People leaving…aka the Mass Exodus

It’s 4pm and a lot of guests are now leaving for the day. Off to get Chick-fil-A for their quick dinner before baseball and softball practice tonight. Summer camps have gone too, so the crowds are much more manageable now. Though it isn’t all sunshine and roses. There is a rowdy group of young men that are continually dismissing the requests of lifeguards and begin mocking them. I’m the lucky target right now…

6pm-DENIM

“Sir, I’m sorry, but you can’t swim in denim pants.” The confused look on his face indicates to me that he doesn’t understand or just doesn’t care. I double tweet to get a manager out to take it from there. The manager comes out and immediately understands my struggle. They calmly explain to the guest the reasons why denim is not an acceptable form of swimming attire. The entire time I’m thinking to myself wet jeans CANNOT be comfortable…

7pm-Swim lessons

This is my favorite time of day. I love teaching our children and youth swimming skills. After all, swimming is a life-skill and everyone can benefit from it! The group of children I have this week are amazing! They are really engaged, listening, and trying all of the skills we present. The safety topic each day is my favorite part!

8pm-Closing time

It’s 8pm and we close the facility for the day. My chore today is the bath house, which is lovely because it usually takes all visitors at least 20 minutes to finish up in there after closing. What exactly are they doing in there???

Anyhow, I take the time to help out with the organizing of the guard office and bag a few rounds of trash. The amount of trash that is made on a busy day at an aquatic facility is mind-blowing.

The last patron exits the bath house and I head in there, gloved up, to assess the damages. Not too bad, amazingly. That means that my fellow guards did a great job when they had their checks throughout the day. It’s just a few paper towels, a diaper (really????), a pair of goggles and a towel.

I check in with the Head Guard and then head to the manager’s office to fill out my timesheet. Today is the end of our pay period, so I take a little extra time to check my math, total my timesheet, sign it, and hand it to the manager on duty.

As I head out to my car, I reflect on the day, especially the rescue that I had. Thank goodness for our in-service training schedule that keeps us sharp and ready to respond to any emergency that could come our way. While I dread the early mornings and late nights when they take place, these are the moments I’m grateful for the thoroughness of our training. 

Here’s to hoping that tomorrow someone doesn’t try to swim in a velour sweatsuit…

Do you know the Difference between Sponsorship and Fundraising?

I notice that these words are often used interchangeably and that could land you in hot water!

Fundraising is connecting people to causes they love and wish to support with their personal (or business) donations. “No goods or a service” is the phrase that is used in the tax language on the receipts.

“Sponsorship is for the purpose of achieving commercial objectives. Philanthropy or monetary donations, on the other hand, are in support of a cause without any commercial incentives. Money is donated simply for the good of the cause with no ‘strings’ attached” (from nonprofnetwork.org)

Sponsorship has an expectation of some kind of commercial return, such as generating new business, brand recognition, or another measurable result. The primary piece to this relationship is access to an audience or group of people. In this type of relationship, a sponsorship “package” is offered and sold to a business, and they benefit from the reciprocal relationship. Whether its tax deductible is debatable but that is usually unlikely, because they ARE receiving goods or services at a certain value from you.

Sponsors have access to your audience

Putting a value on the sponsorship package or “deal” is when you determine how much a sponsor should pay for the activities, benefits, and the website and social media exposure they will get, all outlined in a proposal. This is not the same for every sponsor. Understanding the revenue model of the sponsor and what the motivation or benefit is for them is critical to this step. Always be sure you’re not offering something you cannot actually deliver.

This kind of relationship also requires you to provide data or statistics to show them the value they received, particularly if you’re asking for support again in the future.

Now, there are grey areas in between, for example, event sponsors.

An event sponsor is any person or company that provides something free (money, services, products) to increase the value of your event. Sponsors are key to your event because they add incentives that will draw people to your event or help you cover costs.

This could be use of a venue space, tickets or an art item for a silent auction, t-shirts for your gift baskets, or gift cards. They are freely given, they have a value, and what do they get in return? Publicity. Access to your donors, guests, and their family. So this is still a form of sponsorship and providing tax receipts and language in this case can be tricky.

I hear a lot of Parks & Recreation professionals saying that they need to get sponsors and donations. Yes. But I encourage you to take the time to get to know your donors, encourage philanthropic and big hearted gifts that are freely given because someone loves your mission and your impact in the community. These gifts and relationships are the path to the future.

Next, if you can find a business owner who will be a sponsor for an event because they strongly believe in your mission and your event, and want to support you and the audience you serve, then enter into that agreement and accept the sponsorship and happily promote their support to your audience. If you work with a business that is all about the numbers, their marketing dollars and what social media and print media exposure they expect in return, the stats and data they want to see, perhaps a request to access your mailing list or have major exposure at your events — consider passing on those. These companies know what they need for the dollars they are investing in the sponsorships, and unless you are a well-established enterprise who can devote someone full time to “sales” – which is what sponsorship amounts to – it’s a landslide of work and can really get out of control quickly.

This is just a little blurb to get you pointed in the right direction. I encourage you to read more about the differences between sponsorships and donations, and then set up the processes and proposals that work best for you. Good luck!

PS: Refer to IRS publication 1771 for information on tax language and always talk with your tax accountant or solicitor when you are unsure how to set up or word donation and sponsorship language.

PRPS Members “Level Up” This Spring!

by Jennifer Fean, CPRP, CPP, Northampton Township, 2021 Leadership Academy participant

“What’s Your Engagement Score?”  That is the question that members will start to hear this Spring!  PRPS and the 2021 Leadership Team have collaborated to introduce an exciting, new incentive program encouraging all current members to “Level Up” their engagement this Spring. 

The “Level Up” program is designed to add points to a PRPS member’s engagement score.  Every time a Parks and Recreation professional and member of the Pennsylvania Parks and Recreation Society volunteers, they will receive a certain amount of points.  Those points are added to the engagement score on your member profile under the “Engagement” tab.

Every time an active member of PRPS joins a committee, attends a webinar or conference, writes an article or a blog post, earns a certificate or simply logs in to the PRPS website www.prps.org, points will be added to the volunteer’s engagement score!

Networking and engagement are crucial in any profession, but in Parks and Recreation, the best ideas are born when information is shared and ideas are merged.  Engaging with other professionals to achieve a common goal not only benefits the task at hand but fosters the community and allows growth in the work that we do.

Take advantage of the many opportunities PRPS offers to further professional development, enhance skills, connect with peers, or volunteer for a committee and build up those points!  Earn enough points and members can earn a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Badge.

Each time a professional earns a “Level Up” badge, their name will be entered in a drawing.  At the Bronze or Silver level, earn a t-shirt, water bottle, or other awesome PRPS swag.  Each awarded Gold Badge honoree will be entered in a drawing to win a free conference that year!  Can your district earn the most gold badge members?  Start getting engaged now, because points reset every year!

What are you waiting for? Login to www.prps.org and Level Up now! PRPS challenges members to volunteer and get involved on a committee, run for a leadership position on a branch or in your district, or compete within your office or district to gain the most points1  For complete information, a list of opportunities and point values, visit the “Level Up” page at www.prps.com/levelup.  Stay ahead of your colleagues!  Level Up today!

Bloom Where You’re Planted

by Jeremy Mortorff, Recreation Program Specialist, Hampden Township Parks & Recreation Department

Photo by Mina-Marie Michell on Pexels.com

We all reach a point in our careers where we come to a crossroads. What are we going to do to advance up the ladder? Add that CPRP or CPRE to our name? Possibly branch out into a new wing of recreation to diversify and make ourselves more marketable? Or maybe take a hard left or right onto a new path altogether?

Or, we could try something radically different. You (yes, YOU!) can decide to bloom where you’re planted. You are where we are for some reason. Maybe it’s because you are new in your career and just getting established. Or maybe you are coming back to parks and recreation after a time away from the field. Whatever the case, we have the power to make the absolute best of our current situation. Let me pose a question to you…

Are you content to remain in your current position forever? The quick answer most of us would offer is of course not! Naturally, we want to be rewarded for our hard work –  getting promotions and with it the corresponding bumps in pay. But let me tell you (and I know I don’t need to) – it’s competitive out there. Like survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog competition. Forget Bachelor’s degree, CPRP, CPRE, APRP (Awesome Parks and Recreation Professional-okay, okay, I may have made that one up but I could be on to something!)-many of the people out there seeking department head level roles have those letters and degrees behind their name – and much more. You need to stand out-you certainly can do that during the interview process-but guess what-if you do get that elusive interview, it may not matter the letters you have behind your name, the experience you’ve attained-the interviewer may just click with someone else more. So, what is a person to do?

In my personal journey, I’ve embraced the concept of “blooming where you’re planted”-take the time to be the best that you can be in your current role! If you are a Program Coordinator, be the best Program Coordinator known to man! Commit to running the most diverse range of programming out there, with instructors that have the same mindset of quality and innovation and won’t settle for second best. If you are an Aquatics Director, be the best Aquatics Director you can be! Take a fresh look at your lifeguard and in-service training programs. Commit to a re-invigorated way of thinking with a fresh set of eyes!

Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t aspire for better things. Certainly, set LARGE GOALS! But don’t focus so much on reaching that level that you lose sight of the amazing opportunities in front of you! In my experience, I’ve found that if you take care of business day in and day out, those opportunities will come!

Civility – It Starts with You

Most days, it feels like the world has gone mad. Or at least, it’s tilted on its axis in a new way, so we’re all getting used to things being different.

When my calendar reminded me that way back at the end of 2019 I agreed to write this blog post on Civility in August, I must confess, I literally blanked. Civility? Is it even a thing anymore?

My mind whirled with images: people are angry and afraid – about money, about their futures, about their health, about the state of the country and its leadership, about so many things. And I watch in awe as it manifests in the complete feeling of entitlement to shout at strangers in the grocery store who have a different mask choice than you do (including ramming and injuring that person with a cart or tearing a display of masks to shreds while shouting epitaphs)… to road rage… to writing nasty hateful messages on the Governor’s social media pages or shouting at School Administrators who are not making the choice that most fits your individual family needs.

No need to go on about that. We’re living it.

So where does Civility, Kindness, Compassion, and Humor have a place in this angry, stressed, and in some cases mentally unstable world.

Woman Smiling Photo
Can you see her smile? YES – look at the eyes and cheeks…

Let me suggest a theory – it all starts with YOU. With Each of Us. Because you can only control you, but also because you have influence.

Yesterday I was curving through the strangely laid out parking lot of a busy Starbucks when I came parallel with the drive through and the woman in that car started to pull forward without looking. I immediately slowed and there we were, door side to door side, face to face through our windows, who was going to go first. I confess, the weary part of my brain wanted to say “thanks for pulling ahead without looking” but it was a weary thought, and certainly not accompanied by any hand gestures etc. But the woman saw me and smiled – WOW – and waved me forward. So I then waved my thanks with a happy smile and we waved and laughed and waved again as I pulled my car forward. WOW, how lovely, civility and humor and friendliness in a dark world.

I wonder if we can find our own level equilibrium, take our own deep breath before we go forth into the world, and try harder than ever to be civil and kind in this crazy place.

Even smiling feels hard – with the mask on. I’ve heard people say they are amusing themselves by making funny faces behind the mask, or whispering words. I think a good old fashioned smile is still important. And a verbal hello equally so. (Remember the 5 foot 10 foot rule? Let’s do it!)

I recently attended the Global Leadership Summit (virtually!) and had the opportunity to listen to amazing thought leaders  from around the world speak about the challenges that face us and our world. An additional session that I particularly enjoyed was Vanessa Van Edwards and her theories on human interaction.

Let me share two tidbits that I pulled from her presentation.

1) Your smile still shows behind your mask. Have you ever seen a smile that “didn’t reach someone’s eyes”? It’s like the fake “I will show you my teeth” smile but the eyes are flat. Well, a genuine smile includes the muscles around the eyes, the eye shape, the lines around the eyes (yes!), and the forehead. So SMILE smile smile behind that mask. And say a verbal hello.

2) From back in the caveman days, people are primed to see our hands. If we have our hands behind our backs, the amygdala in the brain starts to wonder, what are they up to? When the hands are visible but neutral, the other person’s brain is signaled that “I am a friend”. Vanessa literally suggested, and this is important for all these virtual meetings too, that when we approach someone we do a two handed wave. Sounds cheesy but she demonstrated with three wags of her right hand and then three wags of the left hand. That “hi-hi-hi” with each hand is a calm and friendly opening to “prime” the other person for a good interaction with us.

Now, if we apply that idea, let’s say you’re walking up to someone while smiling behind your mask, a friendly hello, and both hands lifted in whatever wave feels comfortable. This is priming – you’re getting the interaction started off on the right foot.

I’ll leave you with one last story… My friend was walking into our local Walmart, masked, when he observed at the entrance a middle aged man yelling and swearing at the young female staff person who was asking/telling people they must wear a mask in the store. My friend walked up and said “Hey buddy, back off, she’s just doing what she was told to do.” The guy pulled back, perhaps embarrassed, and then stomped off to his car to get a mask. My friend hung around and chatted with the woman, who confided how frightening and exhausting her job is right now, when she gets abuse every few minutes for the hours that she’s working that post. Can you imagine!? I would be a puddle of tears on the sidewalk.

Now, why did that interaction work? My friend said “Hey buddy” in a friendly reasonable tone, AND put his hands up in front of him with palms out, to show non-confrontation. It very easily could have gone the other way into violence.

What happened next? Two things – the man came back and apologized to both of them. He said things are just really getting to him lately, he can’t keep his cool. He was embarrassed but with a lot of head nodding, he entered the store (masked).

Also, my friend remained, arms crossed over his chest (which is more confrontational) and hung out with the staff person for about 20 minutes chatting. Three more times, he used the same language to defend her but they also observed together that people were less likely to yell at her with him standing there and she was grateful for the break. Interestingly – men were less likely to yell at her and passed by with grumbles, but women still felt completely comfortable to yell, including at my friend. (I would love to do a psychological study on that one).

So, in wrapping up:

Can you be the pleasant one, in whatever situation you find yourself in?

Can you embrace humor and find – and share – laughter in a world gone crazy?

If YOU are the one who is teetering so close to losing your cool, who can you ask for help? Whether that is helping you get groceries so you aren’t tempted to ram people with your cart or just talk with you about the things that are piling up?

Can we be that breath of fresh friendly air for someone else?

Can we help someone who is getting ready to melt down or protect someone (carefully) who is being verbally attacked?

It all starts with You – with US – each of us. We can be the spark for good or ill, and we must make a concerted effort to do just that.

I have an old purple T shirt that says “Build a Better World” in bright script. I’ve worn it for years without a comment, but recently, wearing it while traveling, many many people commented on it. Even a fun and friendly T shirt is a start.

Be well.

Follow the Leader…

It is tempting to group leaders into just two categories: good and bad, however there are actually many types of leadership styles that aren’t inherently good or bad—they’re just different. They all have their benefits and drawbacks, as well as their appropriate uses in certain scenarios.

Complete this sentence: “A leader is…”

What’s your answer? Someone who’s in a formal position of power? Whoever’s ranked above you on the org chart? The person with the corner office and the higher salary?

Those might be the traditional perceptions, but it’s important to recognize that anybody can be a leader, that means you, too.

The definition of a leader is the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.

Read on as I briefly breakdown 7 common leadership styles!

Autocratic Leadership Style

You can think of this as a “my way or the highway” approach.

Autocratic leaders view themselves as having absolute power and make decisions on behalf of their subordinates. They dictate not only what needs to be done, but also how those tasks should be accomplished.

Democratic Leadership Style

You might also hear this leadership style referred to as “participative leadership.” Leaders in this category run groups and projects like…well, a democracy.

Even if these leaders are technically higher on the org chart, they emphasize working together and actively involve their teams in the decision-making process. Democratic leaders value ideas and input from others, and encourage discussion about those contributions.

They aren’t handing down orders, and instead take a much more collaborative approach to getting things done.

Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

This is a French term that translates to “leave it be,” which pretty accurately summarizes this hands-off leadership approach. It’s the exact opposite of micromanagement.

Laissez-faire leaders provide the necessary tools and resources. But then they step back and let their team members make decisions, solve problems, and get their work accomplished—without having to worry about the leader obsessively supervising their every move.

Transactional Leadership Style

Transactional leaders dish out instructions to their team members and then use different rewards and penalities to either recognize or punish what they do in response.

Think of a leader offering praise to applaud a job well done or mandating that a group member handles a despised department-wide task because they missed a deadline. Needless to say, this approach is highly directive, and is often referred to as a “telling” leadership style.

Bureaucratic Leadership Style

Bureaucratic leadership goes “by the book,” so to speak. With this leadership style, there’s a prescribed set of boxes to check in order to be a true leader.

For example, bureaucratic leaders have hierarchical authority—meaning their power comes from a formal position or title, rather than unique traits or characteristics that they possess.

They also have a set list of responsibilities, as well as clearly-defined rules and systems for how they’ll manage others and make decisions. They just need to follow that roadmap that’s laid out for them.

The key difference between the Bureaucratic and Autocratic leadership styles is the Autocratic style is where the leader makes all the decisions and exerts a high level of control over the subordinates. Whereas the bureaucratic style is based on following normative rules in management and decision making, and adhering to lines of authority.

Transformational Leadership Style

Transformational leaders seek to change (transform) the businesses or groups in which they lead by inspiring their employees to innovate.

These leaders are all about making improvements and finding better ways to get things done. As a result, they inspire and empower other people to own their work and chime in with their suggestions or observations about how things could be streamlined or upgraded.

Under transformational leaders, people have tons of autonomy, as well as plenty of breathing room to innovate and think outside the box.

Affiliative Leadership Style

A phrase often used to describe this type of leadership is “People come first.”

Of all the leadership styles, the affiliative leadership approach is one where the leader gets up close and personal with people. A leader practicing this style pays attention to and supports the emotional needs of the team members. The leader strives to open up a pipeline that connects him or her to the team.

Conclusion

If you’re struggling to even figure out how you can be more effective or what leadership style is best for you, start by thinking about a leader or mentor you admired. What were their qualities? What did they do? What did they say? How did it impact you?

Here’s the thing: There’s no such thing as a “perfect” leadership style, because leadership isn’t one size fits all. All of these approaches come with their benefits and drawbacks, and some of them will be more effective in certain scenarios. Like anything, leadership is a learning process, and it takes a little bit of trial and error to get it right.

The Black and Gold(en) Rule

Recently I attended a training on workplace harassment. While I was familiar with most of the “do’s and don’ts” I was surprised to find out that I’m now in a protected age range. (Look ma’, I made it!) Fear not, I don’t plan to discuss the merits of a 40ish year old being age protected. As I’m still in the beginning stage of my ascent up 40 mountain, I’m fortunate enough to have never experienced that on a personal level.

As happens when I’m presented with something new, I try to look at all sides, to include the inverse. This rabbit hole dive, led me to think about all the young people we employee and how vital they are to our seasonal operations. Perhaps it was recently reading Kristin’s blog last week, or the seasonal staff that are beginning to trickle in the office to say hi while they’re home from break. How do seasoned supervisors and co-workers treat new-to-the workforce or less experienced young people?

New York Islanders v Boston Bruins

It reminded me of something I heard last summer.  During the Stanley Cup playoff run, Zedeno Chara, the 42 year old captain of the Boston Bruins, was asked about some of the younger Bruins. He responded,

“If I can help them in any way I’d love to. Age doesn’t really separate the conversations or the personalities. I’ve been saying that for a long time.

We are treating everybody the same way no matter if somebody is 18, or 40, or somebody has 1,000 games or is playing in their first game. We treat everybody with respect in the same way as everybody else in the locker room. I’ve said it many times. Since a very young age, I didn’t like the separation in a team between young players and older players, [or] players who have accomplished something or players that are just coming into the league. I don’t like to use the word ‘rookie.’ They are our teammates. I just don’t like to separate. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Once you’re a team, you’re a team regardless of the age, or accomplishments. We have to treat each other with respect and the same way.”

Big Z’s advice is spot on. There’s so much good stuff in there.  The word he uses multiple times is “respect.” How we treat each other is something I’ve always believed to be of major value, not just in our profession, but I think it’s pretty safe to say is a universal advantage. We can’t treat our teenage staff or young adults any differently than anyone else.

Talk with them like you would talk to your closest peer with 20+ years experience. Notice I said “with” and not “to?” There are two parts to talking with someone, the talking part, and the LISTENING part. Listening to your young staff is far more valuable than droning on about the “good old days.” More often than not, you will come away with a better understanding of that person, or maybe you’ll learn something yourself.

Be patient as you train them and give them the tools needed to succeed. Try to remember when you didn’t have “all the answers.” Be an example through your actions and show them the work ethic you needed to get where you are. Treating them kindly, fairly, yet still with high expectations and clearly defined goals will provide opportunities for a more productive team and healthier work force.

How to replace a legend…

DSC_0326

In late 2013, I accepted the Director position here in East Goshen Township and met Mr. Frank Vattilano. He had been the Director here for twenty-five years and had what lovingly could be called a cult-like following. I shadowed him for two weeks and everywhere we went, it was nothing but bear hugs and tears. He had a verbose, story telling air about him, he would meander between topics with the community just as all our grandfathers do at holiday time. My first reaction…this is awesome. This community obviously loves parks and recreation and cares about the professional staff that administers it. That said, I cannot tell you how many people gave me a smile and said “you have big shoes to fill”…

Here are some of my recommendations for “filling their big shoes”…

1) Embrace their awesomeness – they were probably really good for the community! Don’t feel intimidated by your community’s affection for an outgoing Director…that same affection can come your way!

2) Be confident in your abilities – you were chosen to be the legend’s replacement for a reason…the selection committee chose YOU over plenty of other qualified people. Celebrate the legend for what he or she was, but know that you are going to kick butt over the next twenty-five years.

3) Know your park and rec talking points – whenever someone said the “shoes” thing to me…I acknowledged Frank was awesome, then immediately told them 2-3 things they could look forward to under the “Jason” regime. Control the conversation…

4) Tell people you aren’t blowing things up (even if you are). Over the prior 25 years, East Goshen Parks and Rec had motored along and the community loved it. When I started however, I had my “objective” glasses on and could see we needed some work. Individuals, groups and communities don’t like being overtly told they’ve been doing things the wrong way for years…be tactful and nuanced when discussing wholesale changes.

5) Take a deep breath – replacing a legend takes time. Find ways to engender confidence in your leadership through small easy victories, you will get there!

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