Learning for Leaders

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There's a lot to learn in the pool and spa industry. Whether you are new to the field or a veteran with decades of experience under your belt, industry professionals can expect their body of knowledge will be continually refreshed and updated throughout their career.

Complicating matters is the seasonality of the work. Much of the summer is devoted to new projects and upkeep of existing pools and spas, meaning much of that educational “upkeep” is relegated to the off-season.

Educational initiatives are commonly focused on pool and spa professionals who spend their time in the field, like builders and service technicians. Equally important are educational opportunities for retail staff, many of whom are new to the industry. In these cases, educational development can significantly help the bottom line.

In concentrating on educational opportunities for individuals on the lower rungs of the company ladder, it’s easy to forget that learning is important throughout an organization. Leaders need ongoing training, too.

Larry Bloom, currently the CEO of pool and spa consulting firm Xmente Direct, says people at the top of an organization call fall prey to the “Informed Leader Fallacy.” They confuse position with knowledge, operating from a default assumption that they possess all the information they need, as evidenced by their elevated place in an an organization.

RELATED: 6 Traps Successful Pool Companies Avoid

As Bloom wrote in an essay for AQUA, “The fierce personal confidence that characterizes many leaders serves as a breeding ground for this mind-bug. Most decision-makers will trust their own intuitions because they think they see the situation clearly. Accordingly, they can fall into a trap of believing they are better informed than they really are.”

It’s an especially treacherous pitfall in the pool and spa industry because there can be so much to stay on top of. Technology changes, laws are reworked, styles adapt and customer expectations can be impacted by all of it. Managers and others in leadership roles need to guard against the complacency that tells them they have an exhaustive knowledge of everything there is to know. The dynamics of an adapting industry prove that isn’t so.

Put another way, if employees are being asked to regularly refresh their knowledge and scrutinize the latest changes, leaders should be ready to do the same.

A major part of the challenge is figuring out what to learn and how much should be studied. In general, the pool and spa industry has more specialists than generalists, and leaders rightly rely on the expertise of team members.

Pool pump repair, for example, is something only certain figures in an organization need to be able to handle. It’s not vital for leaders to understand the intricacy of the task. It might even be ill-advised, since digging too deeply into particular parts of the business will divert from other, more important learning. There are only so many hours in a day.

The challenge is in staying current while not getting overly bogged down in the minutiae of every corner of the business. That requires some shrewd research upfront, figuring out which professional development opportunities provide a suitable overview of updated material without delivering a tonnage of pages that require scrutiny. A little research in advance can pay huge dividends in time saved later on.

Luckily, new readily available teaching tools provide a myriad of strong options, often tailored to the needs and preferences of the individual. Many professional development packages — especially those that are digitally based — are offered in modular designs, allowing the user considerable latitude in choosing which components are right for them. It’s easier than ever for someone to be selective when pursuing added education in the field.

There’s another key reason for leaders to engage in professional development activities, and it connects to one of the most venerable truisms in business management.

Since it’s practically a certainty that employees across the organization will be expected engage in coursework keeping them up to speed with the latest turns in the industry, leaders who pursue the same educational opportunities — or at least learning material that is clearly similar in substance — are showing they won’t ask team members to shoulder burdens that they themselves aren’t also willing to take on. It reinforces the organization-wide commitment to staying current and shows solidarity that can boost company morale.

The uniformity of learning does more than shape employee perceptions, though. It can also strengthen decision-making at the top of the organization. Continually learning about happenings across the pool and spa industry helps leaders maintain a shared frame of reference with workers.

C. William Pollard, two-time CEO of ServiceMaster, touched on this when he recounted a unique aspect of his inauguration into the upper leadership of the company. Before joining the executive team, Pollard spend eight weeks working some of the most basic jobs of the residential and commercial cleaning company. He mopped floors, scrubbed down bathroom tile and engaged in other general maintenance.

Because Pollard understood the work being done across the organization, he was better equipped to make choices that impacted the day-to-day business.

“Later in my career when I became CEO of the firm, the faces of our service workers would often fl ash across my mind as I was faced with those inevitable judgments between the rights and wrongs of running a business,” Pollard later explained. “The integrity of my actions had to pass their scrutiny.”

For pool and spa industry leaders, perhaps the best way to ensure their actions will bear up to their employees’ evaluation is to step in and learn right along with them.

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