The most important thing I have learned throughout my career is that a leader must care about the people they oversee. Caring, practicing patience, and allowing your people to succeed by enabling them to learn are vital traits for managers.

You must trust your people. Understand that they will make mistakes, but that those mistakes can help them grow. Affording a path, educating your workforce, providing tools and allowing their own drive to propel them are crucial factors in this growth.

Employees should be encouraged to be the best they can be as leaders in their own right. As managers, it is our job to offer employees every possible opportunity to succeed in whatever their career goals are.

You must serve those who you have stewardship over. Traditional leadership generally involves exercise of power by someone in a position of authority. A servant-based leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of the people and communities they are involved with. Serving the people that you have charge over and nurturing them so that they can develop their talents and their strengths goes a long way in creating more and better leaders within our system.

As leaders, we must keep open minds about looking at new and innovative techniques and products. By allowing our custodial team members to have input on products and processes before we implement them has played a key role in creating more harmonious transition to change.

Many of us have experienced job training such as, “Here are your keys and your area, now go to work” or “Do it our way because I said so.” A better option is to provide education, which is essential to helping our workforce grow in their professionalism. 

We believe in educating our people, giving them skills that are not only of use within our system, but are life skills that they can use other places. For example, 12 years ago, other than a few head custodians, not many of our people were comfortable on a computer. Now, after proper training, all full-time employees in the custodial department are computer literate.

Computers have become an integral part of their jobs. All have been trained to write, read and send e-mails, and employee time tracking, supply ordering, work orders and security cameras are just some of the systems that are part of their daily world. Employees are also encouraged to attend online webinars and look up information on the web when the need arises.

We also believe in teaching our employees the mechanics of what they are doing and why they are doing it. This is oppose to just says, “Here’s the product we use, go use it.”

Like in an integrated pest management system, for example, you must know and understand the pests and their biology with which you are dealing. In our integrated cleaning program, we teach our custodians about the pathogens they are trying to remediate. We teach our custodians the concept of mechanical cleaning and chemical cleaning so they can better understand how best to clean for health.

Our green cleaning program is actually cleaning for health using environmentally responsible chemicals and processes. Our full-time custodians are given between 12 and 18 hours of training every year. Some of the topics we teach are integrated pest management updates, combating pathogens, positive relationship training, managing your personal career, chemical understanding, time budgeting and managing, to name a few.

It is our philosophy at the district that if you want a better workforce, you need to build it. If you nurture and educate people and build them up into bettering their own skills, you will get a better workforce.

At Salt Lake City School District, we have broken down the key principles of IPM, namely the base principle that education and communication are the cornerstone to integrated pest management. We believe it is also the cornerstone to an integrated cleaning system. By educating our workforce, our educators and, hopefully, even our students in the same way that we do with IPM, we hope to have a greater understanding of what we do in our custodial realm.

Our staff is made up of professionals that are caretakers of children’s health and safety. They enable a comfortable, healthy environment in which to learn and it is our responsibility to give them the tools to do the job right.

Lead with respect, purpose and humility – that is the golden rule of leadership. 

MERVIN BREWER is the Assistant Custodial Supervisor at Salt Lake City School District, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is also a founding member of Healthy Schools Campaign’s National Green Cleaning Schools Leadership Council. Mervin spent 26 years as a school custodian and for the past nine has been SLCSD’s district level supervisor. He supervises the internationally recognized integrated pest management program and holds a current state-certified pesticide applicator’s license. Mervin was responsible for developing a district-wide paper recycling program, diverting at least 45 tons of paper annually from the landfill. He is also past president of the Utah School Custodial Managers Association.