Everyone On Your Team Is a Leader

Tony Corpin addressing the crowd at the TD Summit in Indy. (Photo by Taylor Hannon)

As I walked onstage to kick off the Transportation Director Summit at STN EXPO Indianapolis on June 7, I raised my glass in a celebratory toast with all of our attendees and vendor partners. I was overcome with a positive feeling that all of our team’s hard work culminated in this moment. I was proud to embark on this new adventure to Drive Forward our great industry.

The room was filled with transportation directors and school bus contractor executives from Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Texas. Each participant was asked to fill out a survey prior to arriving to share operational challenges each of them is facing. The top five challenges were student behavior, better parent communications, driver coaching/staff training, onboard student safety, and loading and unloading zone safety. Does your organization have similar challenges or do you know someone who does?

The TD Summit participants also shared the top three challenges in managing their teams, which were talent attraction and retention, conflict management and performance evaluations. This was not surprising, with school bus driver and mechanic shortages rampant around the country.

As day two started at the TD Summit, we moved to the Dolphin Pavilion at the Indianapolis Zoo and I witnessed something amazing. I watched 10 dolphins work together with trainers to provide our guests with an entertaining show. I listened to the trainers talk about each dolphin’s unique personality and the behavioral strengths and weaknesses they each displayed.

Also, how easy or difficult they were to train. The trainers informed the audience that some dolphins readily followed directions, while others performed when they decided to, namely Jet. Does that sound similar to the team you work with? Do you have a Jet in your organization?

Each dolphin receives different incentives for good behavior and performance, such as fish, ice, and the trainer’s affection in the form of a high pitch whistle and petting. “Employees are like dolphins,” said Don Harkey of People Centric Consulting Group, during his opening session on creating an engaged team.

In many ways, they aren’t always motived by money alone. They value other things—like recognition, benefits, and the ability to go to conferences for personal growth and professional development. How do you motivate your team to promote a high-performing culture? Harkey went on to say that if you don’t have the title of transportation director, supervisor or manager, you are still a leader, and everyone is on your team.

Every operation has employees who are happily engaged with the company, others who do their job but are more disengaged, and a few who are contrary or toxic. The first hour, day and week is the best time to cement an employee in the “engaged” group. Everyone is hardwired to be an engaged employee, but almost everyone can at one time be disengaged or toxic.

“How do you get engaged employees? You engage them,” Harkey said. One transportation director in the audience shared his experience confronting a toxic employee, who then improved after a candid conversation.

Another attendee shared a story that described a new employee who was let go a month into her new job, after the operation managers realized she was verbally trashing multiple departments and team members, then telling everyone how she could do the job better. And that she was going to be their boss. The employees were up-in-arms about the situation. That’s a perfect example of a toxic employee wreaking havoc on team morale.

Supervisors may be the problem in some cases, resulting in “active disengagement” that is born from a desire for self-preservation.

When people in the job market are considering a company or district, they reach out directly to current employees via channels like social media. “Who are they most likely to contact? A disengaged employee,” Harkey explained.

“Seventy percent of disengagement is caused by management. It’s your fault,” Harkey told the room. Management and leadership are different, and a good manager uses both authority and coaching.

You’ve got to be careful who you let into your organization. Be mindful of who you hire, and how you manage, lead and engage people. Your team will thank you.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted from the July 2019 Issue, Publisher’s Corner in School Transportation News.