Tom Nielsen of the Louisville Bats, Allen Reed, CSFM, FC Dallas, Eric Harshman,
Berea (KY) College, and Dan Farnes of Real Salt Lake for responding to our
questions about crew leadership.
What attributes in your bosses did
you most appreciate before you were a boss?
Nielsen: What I appreciated most in a boss
was the boss that was even-keeled. I mean by even-keeled is you always knew
what to expect; he never was too excited or too down, and he was easy to talk
Reed: From day one my boss never
micromanaged anything I did. He trusted me in my ability as a turf manager to
make the right decisions, and how to pick your battles. Extra events are a part
of what we do. We don’t always like when things are thrown in last minute or certain
events are booked. At the end of the day, the field is here to be used and it
is up to us to manage the grass to be able to take anything thrown on it. With
that, he has taught me the importance of communication when it comes to these
extra events on the field. You don’t always say no, but explain to them what
could happen worse case if the event was on the field.
Farnes: I’ve had bosses who would lose
their minds when something would go wrong and punish the offender for it. I
have found that is not the best way to do things. When I first started working
in the industry, my supervisor wouldn’t freak out if something was
damaged/broken. He realized that stuff happens and when something did get
broken/damaged, he would find out what happened, correct any issues, and have
me fix the problem. That way it turned into a learning experience.
Harshman: I always appreciated (and still
appreciate) trying new things, getting myself out of my comfort zone. Having
the support of my peers/bosses has helped in my maturation process. Knowing
that it’s ok to fail, to not do everything exactly right the first time, only
builds character and provides teachable moments for future success.
What have you found is the best way
to communicate with your crew?
Reed: I still think face-to-face
communication is the best. I feel I get a better sense of understanding when I
can see their facial expressions when I am explaining what I want done. My
assistant and I communicate daily on what needs to happen for that day and the
week. We are constantly talking future events and planning.
Harshman: I’m straightforward in my
communication with my team. I use several large dry erase boards as a
‘command center’ in our shop. Daily job assignments for our different sub crews
(mowing, landscape, etc.), contractors on campus, equipment repairs/general
maintenance, meetings schedule/priority changes etc., can be found on these
boards. I update them as much as possible throughout the day. We go through a
quick briefing first thing in the morning and then again after lunch. I make
use of, and value, the teams’ time. If items need to be addressed I share them
collectively with the group or individually as needed to allow for open
communication so everyone is updated/knows what’s going on throughout campus.
Farnes: We try and meet up every morning
to discuss what needs done, but that doesn’t always happen due to the crazy
schedule we have. We have a big white board that breaks down the next 2 weeks
with training/game/maintenance schedules and that has helped a lot in getting
everyone on the same page. There is also another white board with prioritized
tasks that need to be done. I try and keep them in the loop with what is going
on around the stadium but things change so fast it’s hard to cover everything.
Nielsen: The best way I feel to communicate
with my crew is to encourage them to always be asking questions, and never make
them feel that any question is a stupid question. Show them that you really
care for them more than just an employee but as a person. I try not to
micromanage people, and try to let them figure things out on their own without
letting them go off track, which I think helps them build their confidence. I
never try to crucify them when they do make a mistake but instead use it as a
Does your management style change
depending on the person? For example, do you go tough on some and easier on
others depending on their personalities?
Farnes: My style may change from person to
person a little bit, but I try to be consistent. For example, I may talk to my
assistants differently than a brand new intern but that’s because my assistants
and I have been through a lot more together and they both need different
Nielsen: My management style is definitely
different for each and every person. Someone that I feel has more confidence in
him or herself may be treated differently than someone that isn’t as confident.
I’m always testing the people on my crew, giving them situations to think about
and jobs to do depending on their knowledge. If someone thinks they are ready
to be a head groundskeeper or a first assistant, I expect a specific answer or
reaction to my question. Most of the time they don’t realize I’m actually
testing them. For someone who is brand new I would expect a completely
different answer to that question or job that I wanted him or her to do. This
is how I judge their abilities and their thought processes at that point in
their career. Then I adjust accordingly on how they are maturing.
Reed: I try to treat everyone the same.
I am not the kind of boss that yells when mistakes are made. We have all made
them and it doesn’t help the situation if you lose your cool.
Harshman: My communication tactics differ
from person to person. This is simply because everyone receives, understands,
and communicates differently. Some individuals need to know step-by-step
procedures, tools and materials needed to complete tasks, while others are the
exact opposite and can be given minimal information and still get the job done.
It comes down to getting to know your team, what drives them and trying to get
the best out of them, which is rather difficult at times and takes time
developing relationships with the team/crew.
What do you do to make crew members
Reed: I like to give my crew tasks that
once completed, they can look back at it and be proud of their work. It’s nice
for them to be able to see their hard work pay off when they see their field on
TV over the weekend.
Harshman: “To show how I value them, in the
past I have purchased gear like sweatshirts and T-shirts made for the team. We
bring in doughnuts, order lunch, grill out for the team. There have been occasions
where the team has been grinding it out, getting things done and I’ve cut them
out early for the day. A simple thank you for work well done also goes a long
way! Another way to show appreciation is sending individuals to professional
development classes/training, allowing them to learn and better themselves.”
Farnes: We all participate in fantasy
soccer and football. I do different
challenges with different prizes each week; nothing too crazy, just little
things like gift cards, team gear, lunches, etc. It helps everyone have something else to talk
about other than work and breeds a little healthy competition. I also try and
get out on the golf course as much as possible with the crews and we BBQ quite
often in the shop. Since I can’t pay them all what they deserve, I try and do
everything else I can to show them how much I appreciate their hard work.
Nielsen: How I make a crew feel valued is
by giving each and every one the ability to try any job they would like to
learn or become better at without hovering over them. I will get them started
and then step away to let them try to figure it out, then make constructive
criticism if necessary. I want them to feel that they’re all very important. It
takes the whole team to be able to do the job needed and the more confidence
each person has the better job they’re going to do, and the more jobs they will
do so we don’t have to rely on one person doing one job. I want them all to be
able to do all the different jobs.
Please share some specific examples
of what you do to show your crew how to be a professional.
Nielsen: One way I like to show my crew how
to be professional is how you dress and how you act like there’s always someone
watching. One thing with the groundskeeping profession is we’ve always been
compared to Bill Murray in the movie “Caddyshack,” which is not the perception
we would like. To be a groundskeeper you must be a jack of all trades. One
thing I definitely like to do is lead by example. After 28 years I feel I’ve
seen and have done it all. What keeps me coming back year after year is these
amazing young people that I have the opportunity to work with. They helped me
as much as I help them. I am truly blessed.
Reed: Always take pride in what you do
and know that someone is always watching. I lead by example. There is nothing I
ask my crew to do that I haven’t done or would still not do at any point. It’s
important for them to know that we are one team trying to achieve the same goal
Farnes: It’s important to conduct
ourselves a certain way around the team and fans. That means not bugging the
players and coaches and to respect their space. It also means not getting too
crazy at the games and being as helpful as possible to the fans. We all have
the same shirts from Toro (who sponsor the grounds crew) that we wear
throughout the week and on game days we all have the same polos with clean
shoes, hats, and khaki shorts.
the crew would have different answers to these questions! We have a great crew
at the stadium and out at our new training facility and everyone seems to get
along really well. That helps when you work as much as we do and see each other
more than you see your family and friends. I have only been a director for
about 4 years so I still have a lot to learn and every year I learn more about
how to manage not just the grounds but the crew as well.