Being The Boss To A New Generation

Columns - Outside the Ropes

July 6, 2017
Tim Moraghan

Every year it gets harder to identify and hire good assistants, interns and crew members. Blame the work ethic of millennials, rules against hiring immigrant labor and an overall poor public perception of the game, if you like. But don’t forget that growth potential in this business is limited and the work we do is hard.

Which means that when you do find good people, particularly good young people, it is extremely important to encourage and engage them. To get the most out of the best, you must let them think outside the box, propose new ideas, and push the boundaries.

But maybe more important, change the way you think andw act. So, it’s time to take an honest look at your habits and practices as the boss and see if you are allowing and pushing your people to be their best.

Do you pressure your staff to do what you do and think the way you do? Do you establish strict rules and practices or do you allow them freedom?

Are you a micromanager? Good workers hate that. A good leader tells his staff what is expected or what the overall goal is. Then they step back and let them get there. Giving step-by-step directions for every little task is a waste of your time and your crew resents it.

Do you only want “yes men” around you? The correct answer is “no.” A good leader encourages debate, brings his staff in to talk about strategy, and is comfortable asking for and accepting other options.

Think about the last time someone on your staff offered a truly new idea. How did you react? Did you listen with an open mind? Did you encourage debate? Were you willing to give it a try? Unless you’re a “yes man” to all those questions, you’re not a good boss.

I’m the first to admit that it’s my generation—50 and above—that seems the most locked into doing things the same safe way and won’t change. We’re slow to embrace the newest technologies, preferring the tried and true, or call it experience. At this age, we’re very comfortable and satisfied and, frankly, we’re always worried about losing our jobs. One of the most harmful truths I’ve learned in this business over the years is that many are scared about being unemployed that we stop being creative, repress our true identities and smother our strengths. When that happens, everyone suffers, including the golf course.

But I’m also pleased to note that it’s the superintendents in their 30s and 40s who are the most open-minded to doing things differently. So, there is hope.

What about the next generation? I fear that they feel in their 20s the way I did when I was starting my career and pressed to conform to practices and procedures established by those I worked for. It was made very clear to me that there was only one right way to do every job. Variation would not be tolerated.

We must change our collective and individual mindsets if we are going to engage young people. We must eliminate the “we don’t work that way here” mentality. At the very least, think about when you were starting out and your first bosses: Did they encourage your creativity or restrain you to the same old way of doing things? How did we learn from your own early experiences?

I don’t mean to say that every superintendent out there is doing things wrong. I often run across those who are open to bringing new perspectives to the table. From watching and working with them, I’ve gathered some ideas for hiring and leading the next generation.

Hip to be square. Don’t confuse being open-minded with being hip, cool or that you’re 28 again. You’re not! Real twentysomethings will see through your act in a heartbeat. They don’t want a contemporary, they want a boss, one they can learn from and emulate, but also someone who will listen to them, who wants to hear their ideas.

Lead by example. Don’t be afraid—or worse, above—to cut a hole, jump on a mower, spray or fix an irrigation break. I recall one well-known superintendent who had no problem grabbing a broom and brushing the greens along with the crew at a U.S. Open.

Ask for their ideas. If what you hear is really crazy, explain why but don’t condemn the thought. Applaud a willingness to speak up and push the envelope. During my early years at the USGA, an executive director often said during a meeting, “this might be a crazy idea, but…” This made it okay for others to offer their ideas, crazy or not.

Say what? Speaking of meetings, if the only voice being heard is yours, you have a problem.

Beware Yes Men. If all you’re hearing from your people is agreement with what you’re saying, that’s another problem. If that is the case, it is not enough to keep saying you want to hear new ideas, different thoughts, creative approaches. Prove that you mean it by actually listening to and trying some of their out-of-the-box suggestions. You have no idea how much respect and good will you’ll get by saying, “Let’s try that here.” In the words of General George S. Patton, Jr., “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.”

Know your strengths, and know your crews’, too. It takes many different people, and talents, to form an efficient, effective team. If you’re a good manager but not as good building or repairing equipment, find those talents in someone else and make that person know that those skills are important to you and the rest of the team.

But discovering an employee’s strong points can take time and effort. Think about rotating a new employee through several different tasks for the first few months, giving you the opportunity to determine what he’s good at. Then nurture and help to further develop those skills.

  • A job description is not carved in stone. Employees need to know what is expected of them. But a job description should have some flexibility and room for creativity.
  • Tell people what needs to be done, not how to do it. Explain the task and you’ll likely be surprised by their ingenuity in handling it.

Finally, always be willing to offer support, praise, and respect.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan