Leadership Means More in Sanitation

What does it take to be a leader in the sanitation industry? 

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What does it mean to be a leader? Can you become a leader, or are certain natural skills needed in order to motivate and maintain your team? These are questions that men and women have been asking themselves for … well, pretty much forever.

In the sanitation industry (an industry driven by respect and personal relationships), a strong leader is necessary for success. We work in one of the toughest — not to mention thankless — industries in the world. Without strong leaders in place, it’s difficult to stay motivated, organized, and focused on company goals.

The old saying that “teamwork makes dream work” is true, but you need to have someone leading the team. An organized group will always yield more results when working with clear set directives. With the right leader in place, setting those directives, a team can achieve almost anything. A great leader can make your company more profitable, your employees more motivated, and your customers feel secure in their choice of hiring you.

These are only a few of the positive benefits of good leadership. But the question remains, what does it take to be a leader in the sanitation industry? 

Defining a leader

I think the best place to start the conversation is with the definition. The dictionary doesn’t provide an all-inclusive picture of a leader, but it’s a good place to start the thought process. The term leader is defined as:

“An individual who possesses the ability to influence and inspire others, towards the accomplishment of goals. They are someone who holds a dominant position and leads others by example. They are a person with a vision, who stays committed to their goal and strives continuously towards achieving it.”

In contrast, the definition of a boss is, “an individual who is in charge of the employee or an organization. They are someone to whom the workers report, i.e. immediate supervisor of the workforce.”

There is a huge ideological gap between these two definitions. Because of this, it’s so important to realize that many managers are not leaders, and many leaders are not managers. The easiest way to think of it is: A boss has employees, and a leader has followers. Moreover, leaders can be found in every level of employment — something you don’t get with managers, by definition. 

Identify your leaders

Because we all have very different ways of thinking, it can be difficult to know exactly what it takes to be a leader. In general, personality and social studies show that leaders exhibit the following traits:

  • Foresightedness: looking at greater goals and practicing forward thinking
  • Communication skills: clear speaking patterns that are broadly understood
  • Stimulates work: doesn't wait on work to happen, but actively produces
  • Appreciates others
  • Sets examples: comes in early, stays late, works with others well to complete tasks
  • Takes responsibility: “That’s not my job” isn't in a leaders vocabulary
  • Actively listens

Some of these are fairly obvious, but it's important to actively look for these traits in the people around you. Knowing the traits of a leader doesn't mean you've been doing a good job at picking them out. A leader must know how to utilize motivations and skills in order to help the businesses grow. Without some type of leadership in every level of your business, it can be more difficult to succeed. Take a look around. One of your PROs might be a detail-oriented, timely employee who inspires others. One of your office employees may have incredible customer service skills and a knack for understanding other’s needs. These are leadership skills, and others will be drawn to them.

Be the leader you want to follow

1. Lead by example. This is the easiest place to begin (or at least the most obvious). A favorite informational source, www.entrepreneur.com, says:

“Leaders need to show, not just tell. If you want your employees to be punctual, make sure you’re there on time — or even early. If professionalism is a priority, make sure you’re dressed for success, and treat everyone you interact with (both in-person and online) with courtesy. Set the tone and your employees will follow it.””

The same is true if you’re an employee. Never lower your standards based on the subpar attitudes or poor work ethic of those around you. Work as hard as you can, no matter your position, and you will inspire those around you.

2. Show real humility. You can’t be right all of the time, and others might have valuable input. I’m not saying bend over for any idea or opinion that comes your way. Your business would probably fall apart. Just don't be a know-it-all, and listen to suggestions.

A leader shares the spotlight and enjoys crediting others. For example, if you manufacturer pump trucks, the employees building those vehicles are your lifeblood. Without them, salespeople would be useless, management would be jobless, and the accountants would have nothing to count. Just because there are different levels of employment (warehouse to executive) doesn't mean you’re the only person who matters. One of my friends, a past Delta Air Lines executive said it best: "Always catch people doing something right." It's not the “you” show.

3. Try to improve yourself. When was the last time you learned a new skill, read a new book or watched a documentary on our industry? No one wants to work with a know-it-all, but the same is true for people who don’t try to learn anything new. If you focus on improving your own knowledge base, the people around you will do the same. Although there are no shortcuts to gaining knowledge or new skills, learning should never stop. Encourage your group to learn everything they can about our industry and their jobs. The more they know, the happier they will be with their jobs. If the people who work for or with you are happy, your customers will be happy and your business will grow.

4. Emotions are your friend, not your enemy. I know, I know ... we're all tough, so who cares about emotions? Well, you should. Sanitation work is demanding, both physically and mentally. It takes a special kind of individual to thrive in our industry. However, as with many other industries, sanitation workers aren’t encouraged to be emotionally aware (the ability to understand feelings) in the workplace. Unfortunately this can be true of management as well. The truth of the matter is, no matter what line of work you’re in, it’s possible to feel depressed, happy, overwhelmed, satisfied, etc. Our tough industry doesn’t mean we’re less prone to natural human emotion.

To be a leader, you have to form relationships. You can't be in a personal or professional relationship with an emotional robot. When using your head to do what’s best for your company, don’t forget to have a heart.

There’s always more to learn

This is really just a foundation of ideas to put in your own leadership arsenal. There are millions of tips, blogs, websites and books built around the subject of leadership. This goes to show that leadership is vitally important, not just in our personal lives and work, but in society at large. The best thing about self-improvement, humility, and servant leadership is that not only will it improve your immediate environment, it can help change your community and world.

About the author: Joseph Hummel is the marketing manager for PolyPortables.  


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