The best job… ever!
The attractions industry is unlike any other. It’s exciting, innovative, and full of uniquely-driven people that truly want to make magic happen for others. It can be incredibly rewarding.
As an Old Millennial born in the late 1980s and biased toward valuing experiences over tangible goods, I have to admit there really is nothing like knowing you are able to create something memorable for others the way you experienced it yourself or better. Getting paid for it and doing it every day sweetens the pot.
That magic doesn’t happen by accident. It requires an inordinate amount of planning, preparation, practice, and patience (for the record, the alliteration was incidental but let’s go with it).
I spent about 10 years directly in the business and have a degree in recreation management. Though I am currently adjacent to the field and work behind the scenes in entertainment, I still keep my LinkedIn active and periodically catch up on industry news. There is a part of me that will always be drawn to it and hope to return to it full-time sooner rather than later.
One of the things I appreciate most about my time in the industry is what it taught me about leadership that I still rely on to this day and have not failed me. Here are a few of those major concepts.
You are a resource, not a boss
The attractions industry is extremely team-oriented. If one person is carrying all the weight of a task meant for five, that puts people in danger. If everyone is doing their job and can remain focused on their specific task, it is because they have their other needs met. In the attractions industry, this literally means them having enough rest, being properly fed and hydrated, and given new tasks to prevent operator fatigue and complacency.
Your goal as someone’s leader is not to have them approach you about those things (or the equivalents for your team) but to make sure they are already available. Because you cannot do everything individually a team must do collectively to complete the objective, you have to keep them moving. It is your job to provide those things.
How could I guarantee our guests that we were doing everything to ensure their safety within our control if I did not make sure I had enough staff to rotate positions often, provide breaks from the weather, and provide fresh water to drink?
When people work under your supervision, that’s your job. To provide the resources and support so they can do theirs.
Listen to your subordinates. Really listen.
This one is oft-repeated all around the internet and blogosphere but it needs to be said at least one more time. Subordinates don’t exist to serve you; your job exists to serve them. Everyone collectively should be working toward the same objective. If a subordinate brings something to your attention, they are telling you that they may not be able to do their part in meeting that objective. If they fail, you fail.
Listening to your subordinates does not mean blindly obeying their every whim and waiting on them hand and foot or allowing them to run amok. But it does mean that they may be able to see things you cannot (if you’re being honest: maybe some things you choose not to see). If they ask something of you, bring something to your attention, or request something, it is likely in good faith and that they have a reason for it: the objective everyone working towards may not be achievable without a problem being addressed.
One person must ultimately be responsible for a specific task.
Have you ever come across the story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody? It may have been dropped into a slide at some seminar at that conference way back when, and you might recall a part of it, so I will share it in full:
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
What this means is that a chain of command and a clear list of responsibilities must exist for everyone. Surely, not every single imaginable task can be listed in a job description but people must know who to turn to when unusual situations arise or when it is time to advance things up the chain.
Of all the concepts in this piece, this is the one that is absolutely not optional. No matter the size of your organization or its purpose: if hierarchy and tasks are not clear from the outset, they will be challenging to demystify in the future as it grows.
If the ball is dropped where does it land? How do you make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and limitations? In the attractions industry if this happens it can result in serious injury or death (and on a personal note, I have seen both happen). To prevent this, many hours of research, training, and planning are dedicated to providing these blueprints to teams of thousands. In a well-run facility, every single person you see (and even more that you don’t) know exactly what is expected of them and what they are responsible for. That’s what makes it work.
What makes a leader want to lead?
Many fields, such as military and medical, are as intricately organized or more than amusement parks; however, I can think of few industries that require both a steadfast adherence to its internal leadership structure and provide the illusion not only of ease and simplicity but visible joy and excitement while doing it. That second element is what truly distinguishes attractions as leaders in well… leadership.
Think about it: would you prefer to work under someone who just shows up and makes decisions mumbling over their coffee or someone who has a clear plan, the confidence to follow through with it, and the enthusiasm to get it all done?
Amusement parks and similar facilities (family entertainment centers; bowling alleys; waterparks) are prime territories for young, impressionable new workers to learn skills and live experiences that they will remember their whole lives. Many moons ago, I was one of them. Even if I never return to the field full-time I will always be thankful for the lessons I learned and have taken with me.