“I want the best possible team, yet I struggle just to fill open positions. What am I doing wrong?” Anyone in ownership or management has asked themselves that very question, probably more than once. I know I have! It is not an easy question to answer. However, we’ll try to answer it here.

A great team doesn’t happen by accident. Many hours of hard work, sacrifice, and intentionality will help you find, create and refine the perfect mix of personalities and skills for your dream team. Where most of us fail is in trying to rush the end result. There is no substitute for taking the time to develop and nurture the relationships necessary to create success.

How many of you have rushed the hiring process just to fill a seat? Worse yet, who has hired a seasoned and experienced professional only to find their technical skill may be excellent, but their people skills are abysmal? What about keeping a high performer just for their productivity even when they create a toxic culture? None of these scenarios will result in long-term wins.

Jerr-Dan team members

The first area we need to address as leaders is our own presence. 

Do we model the behaviors we want our team to exhibit, or do we follow the “do as I say not as I do” leadership style? We must show our team how we expect them to behave every day otherwise our words will be without any real meaning when we speak to our “culture”. As with children, more is caught than taught, meaning our team will model what they see us allow— whether that is showing up late, not obeying safety policies, or being rude to others. They will model their behavior on what they see daily.

I presume that if you have read this far and are not completely turned off at the thought that you may be the problem, then you are ready to learn and lead. There is a huge difference between a leader and a manager. Yes, there is a place for a manager, but to run a company there must be a leader at the helm. Managers are good for daily, non-critical tasks, but your front-line people must be leaders.

This doesn’t mean they need to be part of the management team. Your lead driver is likely a leader even without a special title. So is the operator that takes the time to mentor new employees even without being asked. These are the heart and soul of your team and should be rewarded appropriately. Have you ever noticed that often you will have a few team members that are respected and followed even without being in a “position of leadership”? This is a true leader.

If you are new to the concept of servant leadership much of this will seem strange to you but trust me. It works. Your sole purpose as the owner of your company is to serve others. Serve your team, serve your family, and most importantly, serve your community and customers. By serving these people well you will succeed.

A large part of servant leadership is identifying others that have potential and helping them obtain their full potential, even if doing so contributes to their moving on from your company at some point. In today’s employment environment, most folks are not interested in a lifelong career with a single employer. Often, they are looking for a stay of 2-5 years, max.
I know, 2-5 years is hard to fathom since it can take that long for a quality heavy-duty operator or recovery specialist to begin to get good at their job. But that is the hard reality we face today. So instead of complaining or choosing not to invest in training and education for your team, I encourage you to make the most of the season they will be with you, even if you know it will only be a short season. In turn, they will give you all they have for the time they are with you, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you helped someone be the best version of themselves they can be. It is a win-win situation.

How do I find the right candidates to mentor?
Not everyone that works with you will be open to advancement and personal growth, but many will be. You may ask how to identify those that are open to advancement, and I would say you need to get to really know your direct reports to figure this out. Not just their name and favorite shift to work, but really get to know if they have any dreams or goals outside of work, any skills from a previous career, or career ambitions. What do they want their future to look like?

I like to look at a team member’s performance after a few weeks and then again after a few months. Have they shown any natural improvement, as expected, or have they stagnated? If they have not grown, did you provide all the necessary tools and resources for them to grow? Do they have a different learning style? All this must be considered before “writing off” someone as unwilling or unable to learn the job. Presuming you have provided appropriate resources and they have taken advantage of them effectively you can now begin further evaluation for promotion and professional development opportunities.

The ideal candidate for professional development will be the self-starter, the person that takes it upon themselves to come in a few minutes early, stay a few minutes late, and do things without being asked. Do they keep their equipment just barely good enough or do they go above and beyond by cleaning and maintaining their stuff? This can show they are eager for more and have the desire to be professional. They will be the easiest to work with and most eager to grow. However, they are not the only candidates for development.

Do you have someone that already exhibits natural leadership tendencies without the desire for the spotlight? They would be the person that is always willing to listen to the new hire, even when they are asking the same questions over and over, and then takes the time to show them the right way to perform a task. They also demonstrate this positive attitude by always having the equipment and paperwork in order, following the policies, and having good customer reviews. This person may just need some coaxing to really shine as a front-line leader. One caution, though. Don’t push them! Many of these folks are happy without major recognition. You don’t want to lose a top-notch behind-the-scenes asset by pushing them too far out of their comfort zone.

On the exact opposite end of the scale, I would be very wary of promoting the know-it-all. We all have one of those in our lives, the fella that knows everything about everything and will share their opinion, forcefully if they think they need to. They are not real leadership material. They are not even good teammates, as they often cause problems and drive away the good folks! I am not saying you should fire your know-it-all tomorrow, but you should work to control and correct that behavior for the betterment of the whole team’s culture. Whatever you do, do not give the know-it-all any authority. That is a surefire way to feed their ego and cause dissension among the whole crew.