Leadership Series: Introduction
I am convinced that the skill level, education, potential, and work ethic are present in our workforce - so what is holding us back?
This six-part series begins the single most important conversation we can have on The Campus Green and within our own institutions: Leadership. I can think of no better individual to begin this conversation than Geoff Van Berkel. Geoff’s passion and drive are only overshadowed by his thoughtfulness towards his work and others. Hold on to your seats and check back in every Friday because this series could change your life – no exaggeration.
In the last month I have heard a few stories from different institutions and businesses in the West Michigan area that have really got me thinking about just how crucial good leadership and team building skills are in our industry.
-A micromanaging grounds supervisor who buys athletic field products based on which vendor can provide the best trip/ golf outing/ lunch etc. His highly skilled athletic staff is disengaged and no longer care- they are just throwing down whatever products show up in the warehouse. They feel marginalized and unheard- and their work reflects it.
-An employee angry over a change in routine is suspected of intentionally creating a situation in which MIOSHA is called in to investigate.
-An overworked and under-supported supervisor is counting the days until a career change – for too long he has been overworked and underappreciated without adequate recognition or compensation and can’t wait to move on.
-A business owner who wants to grow his business, but can’t find employees who show up on time or who can pass a drug test.
Four different working environments. Four different supervisors/owners. Four teams that are failing to thrive. Four examples of employees under-utilizing their expertise and knowledge that could better their institution.
I have worked in a Private College Grounds Department for 21 years along with entering my fourth season as a consultant/sales rep to schools, colleges and universities in Michigan. I am actively involved in numerous trade organizations/professional organizations and spend quite a few hours visiting customers on their campuses and hearing their stories.
As an employee, supervisor and consultant, I spend significantly more time dealing with personnel and administrative issues than with fertilizer, grass seed, or equipment.
I am convinced that our industry has a real leadership problem.
Working on the grounds crew of an educational facility can be a very enriching and meaningful career. We get to be the best of the best! High profile athletic facilities and sports turf, manicured campus greens along with beautiful and engaging landscapes.
Being landscape professionals gives a stage that allows us to impact literally thousands of students, customers, and guests through our work and passion. Our living art can influence and encourage the next generations of leaders and visionaries.
One would think that our industry would be full of motivated and passionate employees. I am convinced that the skill level, education, potential, and work ethic are present in our workforce – so what is holding us back?
A Grounds Supervisor or business owner has to wear many hats; accountant, HR specialist, scheduler, purchasing agent, agronomist, mechanic, budget officer and psychotherapist just to name a few…but our biggest role is to develop and lead our staff. Without a team of motivated employees focused on a common goal, our results will always be wanting.
So how do we get our teams motivated and working towards a common high standard?
The rewards from leadership efforts can yield tremendous results. Funny thing is – if we can do these roles well, then all the other tasks we do take less effort because we are leading a team, not fighting a battle.
As the leader, it is your job to help your team set a high standard and then map a way to get from here to there. A visionary sees something greater than the present. A leader doesn’t force his team to adapt to his vision, but rather a leader encourages his team to lay the foundations and build the road to get there together.
A leader holds his team to higher standard by calling out actions or performance that aren’t measuring up, then works with the team to improve knowledge and procedures that lead to those higher standards.
A leader is personal and caring – you know what is going on in the lives of your team, and you show a willingness to get to know your staff as complete persons, not just employees. Most people want to be known.
A leader develops and encourages development of techniques that engage the team and calls them up to be better and encourages them to be the best at what they do.
A leader recognizes accomplishment or improvements by their team and tells others about it.
Over the next few editions we will be focusing on one of the above roles each week by putting together some practical ideas on how you can engage your employees in such a way that they look forward to contributing their best everyday.
Geoff Van Berkel fell into the Green Industry by default.
A farm kid bred and raised, I got a little lost while playing Psychology Major at Calvin College in the early 1990’s. Thankfully, I rediscovered my green thumb while working a part time s
tudent worker job on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. After a few short stints at a couple other landscape firms, I was invited into full time employment at Calvin College in 1996 and have been there ever since.
Currently serving as Supervisor of Landscape Operations, Irrigation, Athletics, Equipment and Turfgrass (how’s that for a handle?) I get to oversee parts of the most beautiful campus in the Midwest. I love to innovate, explore and build new ideas, equipment and programs that make campuses and business increase efficiencies and environmental awareness- cool things like smart irrigation, GPS locating, design/build equipment, new fertilizer and seed technologies and ways to melt/ move the snow and ice.
I am also currently in my third year as consultant/ sales for Eco Green Supply in Wyoming, Michigan. This role has allowed me to get off my campus and help other facilities and businesses learn and grow using many of the products and practices I use or have developed at Calvin. I am privileged to serve a great client base in West Michigan!
I have had the honor over the last 20 years to teach interns from Michigan State University (Go State!) , participate in teaching seminar classes and interview days at Michigan State, host and participate in many amazing green industry organizations and associations such at the Michigan chapter of the STMA, the MNLA and Association of Greater Grand Rapids Landscape Professionals.
Most importantly, I am the husband of one and father of 8 (6 are currently teenagers!) We have 4 adopted kids from Haiti, and since 2008 have been involved in various missions in Haiti while traveling there twice per year. One of my dreams is to build a beautiful soccer complex in the slums of Port Au Prince to give kids in poverty a chance to realize their dreams of professional soccer- perhaps some of the resources on the Campus Green will help me accomplish that dream!
I greatly anticipate using this resource “The Campus Green”. Ours is a complex and innovative industry where networking with other professionals will help us all elevate our knowledge and professionalism.