"Mom, they promoted me to a pool manager, but no one trained me or showed me what to do."

"Jared, welcome to Corporate America."

This was part of a dinner conversation I had with my 18-year old son last week, who's been lifeguarding for more than a year. This past winter, he chose to get his pool operator certification so he could earn a higher hourly wage.

As a rising college freshman who's concurrently held three jobs since freshman year of high school, and as someone who has both a Chipotle and a Vineyard Vines addiction, he's focused on making as much money as possible.

He's working an average of 55-60 hours a week, and gaining real-life experience that will serve him well in his academic career and beyond. 

As a leadership coach, I was excited to impart my wisdom. I shared these lessons with him.

Lesson #1: Say Hello to The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle is a universal leadership predicament: when an organization rewards a strong performer by promoting them to their highest level of incompetence.

Jared is a highly dependable guard who takes his job seriously, shows up on time, runs a clean and safe pool, holds other guards accountable, and gladly takes extra shifts. His pool management company quickly noticed his work ethic and promoted him to manager - but they never trained him. They gave him a manual with instructions to "read this." And voila, he was a manager.

Corporate America loves to implement the Peter Principle. Organizations routinely reward high performers and loyal employees by moving them up the chain until their positions no longer align with their skill sets.  

Lesson #2: It's Hard to Work with Friends. Working with friends can pose several challenges. As a manager, Jared has to supervise several friends. Recently a friend complained to him about being assigned an undesirable task. His response? "It has to get done. You're my friend but at work, I'm your manager, and you need to do your job."

Lesson #3: Accountability Starts with the Leadership. Jared's encountered several scenarios that have required him to make tough calls regarding his guards.

One guard missed a save. Jared had to reprimand the guard, and increase the number of guards on deck. Another guard showed up following an all-night party, in no condition to work, so Jared sent him home.

The leader always sets the tone of accountability, and what is acceptable behavior. What are the minimum performance standards by which the organization will operate? The answer to this question lies at the top of the organization.

Lesson #4: Business always follows the Pareto Principle. "90 percent of the time , lifeguarding is really easy. But it's the remaining 10% that really matters, because we are responsible for the safety of others," Jared shared. Whether it's lifeguarding or sales,  20% of your activities account for 80% of your results. 

Lesson #5: Work Ethics Widely Vary. Jared has been surprised at how varied the work ethics are among senior managers. One of his managers is a military Cadet, and insists on a perfectly pristine pool, with impeccable operations. The pool deck must be spotless. Another manager has more relaxed standards. Leaders including Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Elon Musk have achieved their success because of their uncompromising commitment to an exceptional work ethic, and relentless commitment to excellence. 


Nothing beats hands-on experience when it comes to learning leadership. And, one can never learn leadership skills too early. Summertime academic advancement is important, as is athletic development. However, a solid work ethic is required in all aspects of life.

Summer is the perfect time for teens to start developing their real-life leadership skills beyond a classroom so that they can eventually reach their greatest potential. 


Published on: Jun 21, 2016
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