I reached out to 10 assistant superintendent friends of mine: nine from across the country and one fuzzy, little foreigner. I asked them all the same question: What do you look for in a superintendent?
I took their responses, examined them and devised 10 themes to summarize what today’s assistant is looking for in a boss. Before anyone tweets at me to inform me that not everyone has the luxury to even have an assistant, much less be able to provide some of these experiences, I know. Some clubs have better benefits than others and I will confess I’m very fortunate to work for the club I do and to be provided the opportunities that come with that. If you happen to be looking for an assistant — and it seems like everyone is nowadays — take these 10 points to help you attract your next turfgrass protégé.
Obvious, I know. But your personality affects how people view you and that has a direct correlation with the talent you attract to your club. It’s more than just being a cool boss. It’s important to be open-minded and have a sense of humor. How a superintendent speaks to their crew and how they handle situations with members all factor in. How do you handle adversity? Assistants want to see a superintendent who’s level-headed and keeps their composure in all situations. We look up to you. If we see you blow your top because a sand delivery is a half-hour late, we learn to react that way rather than regroup, reassess and appropriately respond to the situation.
Teach and educate
Ever watch Grey’s Anatomy? It’s OK. You can raise your hand. My wife loves it and, quite honestly, so do I. On the show, Grey Sloan Memorial is known as a “Teaching Hospital.” There’s always an intern standing in the background listening, learning, and trying to process all the information coming their way. Assistants resemble those timid interns. We have high hopes and aspirations, but we need a Dr. Richard Webber in our lives. Webber, the seasoned muse whom everyone admires, always makes a point to inspire confidence in the young doctors who work underneath him.
That is something assistants are looking for. A superintendent who is going to invest time in us, simplify and explain things so one day we can take over a course of our own. Teach. Educate. Spread your knowledge. The younger generation needs it and appreciates it.
Today’s assistant wants to be a professional and we look for a leader who can help us grow into that role. Here are a few examples of what we look for in a superintendent who will develop us:
Overall Brand. Who are you? Where have you been? What have you done? These days the name of the golf course isn’t necessarily the main thing that attracts assistants. In a lot of cases, we’re just as likely to choose to work for a superintendent rather than the golf course they manage. Presence on social media, exposure from articles or publications, or just being well known in the area for being a solid superintendent all play into how well connected you are to the younger generation.
Products. Have you ever been in an association meeting when they hand out one of those lifetime achievement awards? Any time it’s a former superintendent, at some point someone says, “If you have worked for this person please stand” and a quarter of the room stands up. You have to admire the large number of turf managers who worked under the seasoned veteran, all the lives and careers that have been touched. That’s an exaggerated example, but it fits, I promise. As assistants we see that and carry that with us. For our next job, we’re more likely to look into who the prospective superintendent has produced. Who has worked for you? And would they stand at your awards ceremony?
Patience. Everyone’s different with how they work, learn and grow. Give your assistants time to grasp all the practices and concepts that may be new to him or her. You’ve been doing this for a lot longer than us. Keep that in mind. And in regard to past assistants, just because your last one picked up on spraying greens in a week doesn’t mean your next assistant will. Give them time to learn at their own pace.
This is the fun stuff, the things that keep you motivated and on fire for the turf game. I’m talking volunteering, association events, conferences and shows. I will never forget my first Carolinas GCSA Conference and Show. A bright glare from the fluorescent bulbs bounced off the new equipment as I strolled up and down the aisles, grabbing everything free in my path. Everyone was laughing, talking turf and just plain having fun. I was blown away. That feeling was multiplied this past year when I was fortunate enough to attend my first Golf Industry Show. My current superintendent knows one way to keep assistants passionate about the industry is to let us do these things. With regards to volunteering, not only does he allow us to take a week off to go volunteer for a tournament, but he strongly encourages it. He understands the value in these extracurriculars. Not just for our professional development, but also for the golf course he provides to his membership.
I use culture here, but work environment could work as well. “Creating a culture” is just a fancy way of saying “make the work environment enjoyable as possible.” While prior generations seemed to replace labor almost effortlessly, today’s assistant realizes the value of making the workplace somewhere employees want to work — and in some cases, even enjoy. We know crew members are the foundation and driving force of the operation. Keeping your crew satisfied, motivated and continually working to the common goal makes the assistant’s life a lot easier.
Assistant superintendents want to be a part of the whole shebang. From running the crew day-to-day, to planning future projects, all the way to budgeting. They want to feel like they are an integral part of the club. Take your assistant on your morning rounds and discuss what you look for and what you’re seeing. Sit them down and let them help with EOPs. We want to know our thoughts and ideas are at least heard and considered. Involve your assistant in the entire process of running the course.
There is an old saying (or maybe I just made it up) that’s summarized as, “You’ll never learn if you’re always given the answer.” When faced with a problem, question your assistant to help pound your lesson home. It can be as basic as “What do you think?” or “What would you do here?” Then use that time to teach and educate. Want to take it a step further? Encourage your assistant to take the time to diagnose the problem, then challenge them to fix it themselves.
Freedom!!! (Insert Mel Gibson meme here) But seriously … Truth be told, I probably could have fit freedom in with the “Challenge” section, but the term “Freedom” came up too many times to not explain what I think these assistants meant. Easy, OK? I don’t mean you should be lackadaisical with your assistants and let them run amok on the course. I think this is more of an anti-micromanaging type deal. If you’re constantly telling your assistant what to do, or calling every 10 minutes on your weekend off, we feel you don’t trust us. And if you can’t trust us to be able to handle everything while you’re off property, what’s the point of having an assistant? Give your assistant the freedom to make some calls on their own.
Very similar to “involve,” but was mentioned enough to warrant its own section. Assistants want to be allowed to interact with the members, club personnel and industry sales. They want that face-to-face time, the ability to shake hands and learn how to deal with people in this business. Allow your assistant to join you in decision-making meetings. Let them listen to sales representatives and their pitch when they come by. Assistants need this type of interaction to learn how to handle ourselves when we’re in those situations as superintendents.
This is a big one, especially for me. This is something I’ve looked for from my superintendent throughout my entire career. This goes a little past just feeling like my superintendent likes me. I’m not asking to be best friends, nor am I looking for a father figure. But I’ve also wanted a RELATIONSHIP with my boss. We want to feel like you care for us the person as much as the employee. Know who your assistant is personally as much as you do professionally.
My old boss had his quirks. He always seemed pissed, busy and sarcastic, but he also always stopped and talked with me and made a point to check on how I was doing. Bossman was old-fashioned and even though he had a weird way of doing it, he always made me feel as though he cared about my success on and off the course.
I no longer work for him, but even now we maintain a relationship and that has always stuck with me. Dude was at my wedding (and he got me a fancy coffeemaker).