Invest in Leadership

Great leaders don't happen, they are created

leadership, employees Each team member has their role

Facility managers (FMs) and building service contractors (BSCs) can’t expect their cleaning operations to run smoothly if their organization doesn’t have the best possible leadership. Great leaders make the critical decisions that guide your operations to consistently achieve the highest levels of cleanliness, safety, and health at the lowest overall cost. They create an environment of motivation, engagement, and empowerment, not one of high employee turnover. Your workplace under a strong leader allows the right people with the right attitudes, traits, and skills to be consistently effective, efficient, and productive.

Sadly, even though 83% of businesses say developing leaders is crucial, too many organizations underestimate the importance of good leadership. Consider these statistics collected by Go Remotely:

  • 79% of employees will quit their jobs due to a lack of appreciation from leaders
  • 69% of millennials believe leadership skills are not developed in their workplaces
  • 70% of employees in the U.S. are unhappy in their jobs due to negative management
  • Only 2.6% of management workers are highly engaged due to uninspired leadership.

Meanwhile, business research firm DDI’s Cost of Poor Leadership Calculator computes that one poor leader costs a company more than $126,000 annually in low productivity, turnover, and staff dissension.

The obvious question these statistics raise is what constitutes a great leader? While the answer can vary, there are specific traits and skills that nearly all true leaders possess.

Don’t mistake management for leadership

Many custodial teams have solid supervisors and managers, but that does not mean they are great leaders.
Good supervisors and managers:

  • Plan
  • Organize
  • Budget
  • Supervise
  • Measure
  • Report
  • Reward
  • Control.

Great leaders:

  • Coach
  • Motivate
  • Challenge
  • Inspire
  • Build confidence
  • Bring out the best in their people and their team as a whole.

To accomplish the list above, great leaders need the right traits and skills, terms that are often mistakenly used interchangeably. Traits relate to a person’s qualities and characteristics, while skills refer to their ability to perform a task well. The right mix of both helps drive teams toward a shared goal.

In addition to possessing the traits of integrity and a great “can-do/will-do” attitude, great leaders are:

  • Open-minded and curious, constantly seeking out new solutions
  • Coachable
  • Collaborative yet encouraging of constructive dissent
  • Respectful
  • Caring
  • Balanced between confidence and humility
  • Accountable to themselves while holding others accountable
  • Supportive—always having their people’s backs.

Great FM leaders also have a certain skillset. They:

  • Communicate well
  • Focus on results, not processes
  • Delegate effectively
  • Develop and empower their people
  • Drive continuous improvement
  • Appreciate their team and make them feel valued
  • Embrace diversity
  • Champion change
  • Act decisively based on solid data/risk versus reward
  • Foster inclusivity
  • Constantly curate talent
  • Have a clear vision for the future.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Bonus: Great FM leaders are experts on cleaning and know how to lead an efficient cleaning operation.

Go for great

Take these steps to help ensure the people you choose as managers will be qualified to lead your custodial team:

  • Set your North Star. Before hiring or promoting new leaders, make sure your organization’s vision, mission, core values, and key objectives/strategies are clearly stated, aligned with one another, and always followed. This clarity is your team’s North Star. It provides the authentic purpose necessary to build a cohesive team.
  • Be selective. Especially in a tight labor market, you might be tempted the first individuals who come your way. Don’t. Subpar leaders are costly; lower team engagement, productivity, efficiency, and morale; and lead to higher employee turnover.
  • Hire for traits. Hire based on traits, not experience/skills, which can be taught to those with the right attitude, including the ability and desire to learn. Without the right attitudes and traits, they will not fit into your organization’s culture or be engaged/motivated; they will likely quit the job soon or, worse, negatively impact the team.
  • Fix mistakes—fast. Whether hiring or promoting, make sure the person is a true leader within the probationary period. Better to admit an error early than make the million-dollar mistake of having to keep that employee for years. (If a US$40,000 average custodial salary adds up to $1.2 million over 30 years per employee, imagine how costly a poor leader is!)
  • Ensure basics. Provide effective/proper onboarding, and initial and ongoing education, training, and coaching for all employees to ensure thorough knowledge of their current responsibilities. This ensures a solid skills foundation for subsequent promotion(s).
  • Conduct an assessment. In my experience, a comprehensive evaluation of your current leaders and people should include about 60 areas of review. Make sure your assessment includes a 360-degree evaluation in which supervisors, managers, and directors assess themselves and are assessed by their supervisor(s), coworkers, and direct reports using specified criteria. Based on the findings, you can determine who is currently operating at a top leadership level and who needs training in specific area(s). This will allow you to develop a detailed performance improvement plan for them.

To quote the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” Custodial teams with strong leadership that sets and keeps them engaged, motivated, and on course will see their efforts rewarded and their leaders cherished.

Posted On August 19, 2022

Mike Sawchuk

Mike Sawchuk of Sawchuk Consulting shows BSCs, in-house facility service providers, manufacturers, and distributors in the professional cleaning industry how to  improve their outcomes with insightful, pragmatic solutions. He can be reached at 905-932-6501, via LinkedIn at, or at

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