Cleaning industry leaders will face a more complex environment this year with many new challenges. Persevering and finding the right solutions to those challenges can be extremely rewarding. Skilled leaders are advocates for their cleaning team members. Become a skilled leader and overcome your leadership challenges by embracing the key components of trust, transparency, and teamwork.
A boss doesn’t equal a leader
I was promoted to my first leadership role when I was a cleaning department employee at the largest airplane manufacturing company in the world. I felt totally unprepared for my new management position. Suddenly, a group of people looked to me for guidance. Colleagues who were my peers and friends the day before now saw me as “the boss.” All of my carefully thought-out plans suddenly seemed unrealistic. I worried that I was asking too much of some people and not enough of others. Any feedback from my director seemed like criticism and I felt overwhelmed. I was so concerned with being “the boss” that I responded poorly the first time someone questioned my decision to implement a new standard system for cleaning. Instead of exploring why they had questions and asking if they could see a better way, I shut down the conversation and stuck to my guns.
Eventually, with experience and the help of a good mentor and coach, I began to feel more comfortable leading others and grew to be a more effective leader.
After working with hundreds of cleaning organizations I know my experience isn’t unique. Only a small group of leaders feel confident making business decisions yet the cleaning industry needs leadership at all levels more than ever. Middle managers connect senior leaders with their front-line employees so it’s critical to develop the leadership potential of middle management—especially during these challenging times. Good leadership is developed through practice with support, coaching, and mentorship.
Five common leadership challenges
What are some common challenges leaders like you face in the cleaning industry and what’s the best way to manage them? Our team visited hundreds of locations in 2021 and these are the five most common leadership challenges we saw.
1. Providing inspiration and motivation. As a leader, your team is looking to you to provide inspiration and motivation to complete their work. This can feel tough in a challenging work environment or if you’re not feeling motivated yourself. To inspire others, help your team members focus on the value of their work. The ISSA Value of Clean tools communicate many of these values. Share this vision for the team and make sure each employee can connect to how their piece of work makes a difference. Helping your team find purpose in their work is critical to their engagement.
Optimism is also a core component of inspiring others. I have often joked that if I wasn’t an optimist I would have talked myself out of the cleaning industry a long time ago. I can always think of ways a cleaning program could fail to produce improved outcomes before even trying something new. But if we share the belief that working together will result in positive progress, we will nurture trust, act on our promise, and grow stronger.
2. Developing others. Identifying the future leaders for your organization is a key part of your role. It’s important to search out the potential in your team members and encourage their growth. You’ll need to understand their talents, capabilities, and hopes for the future and find ways to help challenge and stretch them. Take the time to listen to your team. Create formal and informal opportunities to discuss how your employees want to progress in their career and how you can help them take
3. Leading change. Leading a team through a significant change like the current pandemic is a unique challenge for today’s leaders. How we do our work is changing like never before and employees will look to leadership for guidance and reassurance. Change can often feel overwhelming or uncertain. It’s important to validate the feelings of your team members so they feel heard. Helping them find the positives of change can lower their resistance
4. Leading with transparency. Transparency is especially critical as we face complex problems. To find a solution to an issue, we must know the facts and circumstances. There will be instances when we can’t fully share the details of situations with others, including our team; however, we can share the processes for how we make decisions and the guiding principles for our shared mission. We should also share, to the fullest extent possible, any data that supports our decisions. Approach your team with openness and an intention to engage in
5. Managing a team and building trust. When you become a leader, you’re either new to the team or you’ve been promoted from within it. Both circumstances can be tricky to navigate. You’ll have to build trust with new colleagues or manage a new dynamic with old ones. Start by sharing your work results and expertise in a transparent way. This will create an environment in which others will also feel comfortable being transparent.
Although trust is the glue that holds our efforts together, it takes time to build and is fragile once created. You will build trust by being in the trenches together to work through experiences and trials—situations in which your character is on display and your integrity is tested. You can also build trust by recognizing team members for their efforts. In these times, everybody can benefit from having someone in their corner.
Recent years have left many cleaning industry leaders fatigued. Yet, I am optimistic about the potential and promise that I see. Embracing your team and valuing their work will allow you to adapt and take on the next challenge together.