Be a lifeguard: Stay vigilant to ensure a safe, inspiring work environment

Summer brings back memories of my days as a lifeguard at my YMCA in Southern California. Earning my lifeguard certification at 16 years of age took a lot of work, effort, and focus. I was excited to serve! I’d get paid to hang out at the pool with my friends -- what’s not to like?

The reality and responsibilities of the job hit me hard.

Lifeguards must observe the pool, the deck, and the environment every minute. The safety of all in attendance requires constant vigilance. They must praise aligned behavior and redirect mis-aligned behavior, promptly.

A five-minute conversation with a colleague or guest could lead to a life-threatening emergency. Lifeguards become experts at 20-second conversations while never taking their eyes and focus off their primary customers, in and around the pool. Being fully present, monitoring the safety of guests, is their primary responsibility.

Business leaders have similar responsibilities. They may not face life-threatening emergencies as lifeguards do, but they must be fully present and vigilant, observing the quality of workplace interactions and monitoring the psychological safety of their team members as well as the productivity of their team.

Stellar results are great, but if your work environment is cutthroat, demeaning, dismissive or mean, team members won’t be their best selves at work. They’ll be “on guard,” awaiting the next frustrating interaction with bosses or colleagues.

Our great bosses created purposeful, positive, productive work cultures where we thrived. Everyone was treated with trust, respect, and dignity, in every interaction. You can create that same, healthy environment, if you choose.

Like a lifeguard, be fully present and vigilant, monitoring and coaching the quality of your work culture, every second of every day.

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