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Green Cleaning: Leading the Charge

March 1, 2016
The most effective cleaning departments have one thing in common: strong leaders.

Every school department has its share of challenges. This is certainly true in the cleaning department, given that it is so dependent on staff. Working with the Healthy Schools Campaign and its Leadership Council has highlighted some of the attributes of what makes for a great cleaning department. While organizing, budgeting and knowledge of cleaning are critical skills, the factor that truly stands out is leadership.

Great leadership in this case is very different from simply being the boss. It is about more than being at the top of the organizational hierarchy with the ability to hire and fire, give raises or assign tasks. The following are some of the key attributes that define a great cleaning department leader:

Offers a clear and inspiring vision. Great leaders truly believe that the work of the cleaning staff literally saves lives. Too dramatic? Perhaps. But great leaders need to instill a clear sense of purpose in their staff, and the higher the purpose the better. Cleaning is hard work and often totally taken for granted by students, staff and other building occupants. So great leaders not only take pride in the work, but also go out of their way to make sure everyone hears about it, believes in it and celebrates it.

Leads by example. Great leaders don’t have to be an expert on everything relative to cleaning, but they have to know the basics. But beyond how to clean, they have to set the tone for other critical issues as they exemplify how others should think and act. This includes both the things they do such as showing up on time (better yet being early) and working hard, as well as attitudinal issues such as active listening, being respectful, learning new things, following through on what they say, and demonstrating pride and a passion for the job.

Works toward the success and empowerment of others. Being a boss doesn’t necessarily make one a leader, nor does being bossy. In fact, a leader isn’t always the boss. The difference between the two is this: Bosses manage; leaders inspire. Anyone can manage, but not everyone can lead. Great leaders make sure staff knows what’s expected of them and helps each individual improve. Better yet, great leaders make all workers feel they are important members of the team and actively help team members be the best they can be.

Builds confidence and trust. Great leaders instill confidence and trust not by demanding, but by encouraging. Even in the face of defeat, a great leader will tell staff to get up and keep fighting. And more often than not, failure is part of the equation. That’s OK, because great leaders know when to admit their missteps and have an equal willingness to learn from them.

Makes difficult decisions. Great leaders not only do the fun and inspiring stuff, but also are willing and perhaps more important, capable of handling difficult decisions in a timely manner and with delicacy. Whether it is dealing with difficult personnel issues, budget cuts or facility crises, great leaders will get their hands dirty, keep their cool under fire and get the job done. This is not to say that great leaders are meek or mild, but they are steady and unwavering under stress.

Creates other great leaders. Perhaps the most important attribute of a great leader is the ability to create other leaders. Creating an inspiring vision, leading by example, empowering, trusting, and demonstrating how difficult decisions are made are part of the formula for leadership success – success that will play out in the cleaning department and beyond.

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