Three internal leaders/managers talk candidly to owners about being the “middle child” in the cleaning industry.
It should not be surprising that with more than 30 years’ experience between us with our current cleaning business owner/bosses that we’d say that our current boss is the best leader we have ever worked with. Who are we? We are the leaders of the support staff for three of larger cleaning companies in their markets:
Leader: Derek Christian, My Maid Service, Cincinnati, OH
Current: Owner/Operator of My Maid Service – Dayton, OH
Previous: Technician, Customer Service, Trainer, General Manager for My Maid Service – Cincinnati, OH
Tenure: MMS–Cincinnati for 7 years; MMS-Dayton launched February 3, 2014
Leader: Liz Trotter, American Maid Cleaning Service, Olympia, WA
Current: Office Manager
Previous: Team Member, Coach, Trainer, Customer Service, Office Manager
Tenure: 15 years
Leader: Tom Stewart, Castle Keepers of Charleston, SC
Current: Office Manager
Previous: Technician, Customer Service, Office Manager
Tenure: 12 years
And we want to tell you want it’s like to become a leader in someone else’s company.
Oh, and the answer to your burning question is “Yes” – you will see glimpses of owner/leaders Derek, Liz, and Tom in this article, but they are not who this article is about. This article is about US – the support staff – and how we became leaders.
Being the “Middle Child”
If you have three or more children or have read the traditional profile of a “middle child,” then you know that the person stuck in the middle generally ends up being a balancer, a negotiator, a diplomat. Why? Because that middle child has to be both a follower of the older and a leader to the younger. That’s where we are coming from: the support staff that owners need to follow them in turn provides leadership to the cleaning technicians.
Ronald Miller, Director of Career Development at Francis Marion University, describes how a support staff manager/leader feels like this: “I’m not a leader. I’m one of the guys who gets things done and keeps the place running so the leaders have something to lead.”
It’s not uncommon for a newly promoted support staff member to feel like she’s not a leader. The fact is that she’s probably not. What’s worse is that the other staff don’t see her that way yet either. In this new role, we all had to prove ourselves not to just one person – our bosses – but to the staff whom we now lead.
Think of it this way: yesterday, before being trained to work in the office, we – my fellow technicians and I – were equal; today, we’re not and no one knows what it means or what to do. So it ends up looking like this:
· We are seen as the winners in a brown-nosing contest, power-hungry, and snobbish.
· Our job in the office is not seen as real work, as if what we do is not as important or deserving of an assumed pay raise.
· Staff who are older in age or who have been with the company longer constantly challenge us based on that fact alone – not performance or achievement – but a factor unrelated to our skills.
· We aren’t respected as leaders or managers by the cleaning technicians, a fact often illustrated by their attempts to bypass us and go straight to the owner with minor problems…or worse, playing us and the owner against each other on the same problem.
· We’ve been trusted with an owner’s heart and soul, something that owner has put love, sweat, and tears into (and probably still does); that’s a lot of pressure, something we might not have learned to the skills and strategies to manage yet.
· We’re responsible for knowing the company culture, living it, and coaching others to live it; there’s another area where we have a passion and desire to make it work but not always the strategies.
Some of these are challenges you’ve already faced down during your days at the single leadership level, but your role as the owner offers you special protection that doesn’t extend to us. But it’s the ways our various leaders have treated us that gave us the most confidence in becoming the leaders we are today.
Empowering Support Staff into Leadership
You might be wondering how this happened – how we grew to be leaders in our own right. Well, the first thing you should know is that we’re still not the leaders we know we can be and that our bosses know we can be, even though we collectively have been on this journey for many years.
Create a Safe Place for Us to Mess Up
Even when you’re lucky enough to hire or promote someone with a business/management degree or some experience from a previous career, we need to know that we can mess up and learn from our mistakes. We need that support, encouragement and sometimes a sharp poke in the ribs to try something new, push beyond what you know we can do or even what we think we can do.
Provide Personal Coaching and Goal Setting
Every boss does this differently and at different times in an employee’s tenure; but if you really want to build a leader who’s going to embrace your company the way you do, you have to make it personal. Work with leaders-in-training to tie our life and professional goals to achievable milestones within the company. And then loan us your network and your time in mentoring to help make it happen.
Open Up Leadership and Management Training to Us
It seems so simple to remind bosses to provide training, but as we’ve met “others like us” in the industry, we know basic leadership skills aren’t taught, practiced, and reinforced. We might get an article or a 1-hour free webinar once in a while, but a focused, concentrated effort is rarely part of the package. Change that. Between community colleges and online universities, good basic leadership and management training is available and a necessary investment if you want a competent leader in your office.
Get Out of the Way
Along the way, we like that you’ll stop and teach us something new and ask us to gradually take charge of that part of the business routine or even a whole project. But at some point, you have got to stop hovering and let us do it. Especially when it comes to our role as a leader to others in your company, we need to be seen as authoritative at least in the areas we’ve been given. And remember, we’ll mess up, so we encourage you to follow the Praise in “Public; Correct in Private” model not only for our own growth but also for reinforcing our role publicly within the company.
Be open to learning things from us.
This may be the most important thing you can do. We have had to teach our bosses some things about themselves. All bosses have some common behaviors that they can sink into that really stress out everyone: micromanaging, tracking your activities (as if they don’t trust you really did them), expecting genius on a moment’s notice, things like that. The trick is once again to get out of the way – this time out of your own way, bosses. Let us tell you what the specific behavior is, how it distracts us from actually doing what you need/want, and what we can say or do to alert you to the behavior before it derails a day or a project. (Whew! That last part was the hardest to get out.)
And at the end of the day, always remember that we – your support staff and internal leaders – follow because we believe in you and you have given us a reason to believe in ourselves. You have given us trust, an open mind toward change, clear expectations, and tools for improvement. But most of all, you have given us a model to follow, as the leader we aspire to be.