Who wants to be a lifeguard?

I spent a summer working as a lifeguard and, I’ve got to tell you, it was a pretty great job!

Mostly I would twirl my whistle around my fingers, first one way, then the other. When kids were running, I’d yell at them, “No running on the deck!” The whole summer, I didn’t have to jump in the water to save anyone. It was a very chill summer job.

Whistle twirling aside, Lifeguards have to remain vigilant for times when someone gets in over their head and gets in real danger. In those situations, they go from pretty-much worthless to the most valuable person around. They have the skills to prevent a horrible injury or death, and, for a precious few minutes, that skill is invaluable.

The basic assumption of the lifeguard is that people know how to play in a pool with reasonable safety. Sometimes you need to remind them. (“No running on the deck!”) But generally, they’re going to be OK. You have to keep your eyes open for the one or two who are hell-bent on getting injured.

That said, people couldn’t just show up and jump in the pool. To get into the pool, you had to pass a swim test, or you had to be accompanied by an adult. To get into the deep-end, you needed an even more stringent swim test. The rules of the pool make it a safe place to swim!

How can you be more like the lifeguard?

As a leader of a growing firm, you likely don’t feel much like the lifeguard. There’s no working on the tan for you. You’ve got stuff to do!

But, just for a minute, let’s imagine if your business was the pool and you were the lifeguard.

What if you had a team that (mostly) knew how to do things? They understood the rules and usually followed them. When they stepped out of bounds, you’d give them a gentle course correction. (“That’s not the kind of email we send to clients!”)

You are overseeing the pool, looking for times when the team is in over their head. In those situations, you intervene. But you also create systems and guidelines so that no one gets in that predicament again.

You create a safe environment for the team to “play in the pool” by creating onboarding processes to train folks. You go looking for the skills that the team needs to be successful and invite them in. You measure performance to catch issues while they are small and easy to resolve.

Sounds like a less stressful way to live, right?

What do you see that’s keeping you from living out your lifeguard fantasy? What would you need to change, in you, or in your business, to make that work?

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