I have a question for all you supers out there. How important do you consider your assistant? On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate that importance?

If your number came in anywhere under 8, you’re not being honest with yourself.

An assistant superintendent should be the most valued employee you have. If not, you’re not utilizing the position to its fullest.

Although this may not be the most comforting thought to let enter your mind, ask yourself: if you were hit by a bus tomorrow and could no longer work, would the operation miss a beat without you?

We all like to think we’re irreplaceable. But, of course, we’re really not. Although we all bring our own unique set of skills and experience to the job, ultimately there is someone else out there who could probably do the job just as well.

Perhaps part of our job description should be to make sure the person directly below us is indeed someone who could step in and keep the operation flowing smoothly. A certain level of responsibility must be placed on the superintendent to make sure the assistant is capable and also ready to take over at any moment.

This may worry some supers. Maybe they don’t want someone working for them who can do their job just as well as them. It’s kind of like the rookie head football coach who hires the seasoned veteran offensive coordinator — the guy who’s been a head coach for three different teams and has a title or two. Is the rookie coach adversely impacting his own job security by hiring the wily vet?

I don’t think so. Anyone who’s constantly looking over his shoulder and worrying about job security perhaps shouldn’t be in charge in the first place.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: No doubt you were hired to provide the very best product possible. Having the very best people in place underneath you is imperative to achieving this goal.

So, what makes a good assistant? When sitting down to interview a handful of candidates, what qualities are you really looking for?

Although, thankfully, I haven’t had to hire a “No. 2” in more than seven years, I still have my finger on that pulse needed to find the right guy or gal. If I did have to suddenly conduct that search again, these are the top eight qualities I would be looking for in that individual:

  • Driven to succeed. Not to belittle anyone, but one often sees assistants who have no desire to move beyond their current position. They are more than happy to stay the No. 2. The big chair may even scare them a bit. Now, although these people exist, and I’m sure they do a fine job, it’s really not what I’m looking for in an assistant. You want a person that can step right in if that bus takes you out. Not only is it peace of mind for you, but it’s also peace of mind for the golf club operation. Simply put, your assistant should, at some level, want your job.
  • Confidence. Leaders, in general, exude confidence. No one wants to follow someone who seems unsure of themself. The ability to not only have confidence in one’s self, but to put that confidence out there for everyone to see, that’s a quality I look for.
  • Willing to admit they don’t know everything (but they want to learn). I had an assistant once who didn’t think I had anything to teach him. Safe to say this didn’t last long. Not saying I know everything, but with experience comes knowledge. Getting a fresh buck right out of a big-time turf school who thinks he knows everything isn’t a desired quality. There’s a thin line between confidence and
    arrogance.
  • Adaptability. This one might be the hardest to determine in a candidate sitting across your desk at an interview, but it could be the most important. One of my strengths (if I might be so bold) is undoubtedly my ability to change on the fly. Adapt to a mower breaking down or Mother Nature throwing the day’s plans out the window. Finding this quality in an assistant is crucial.
  • A strong work ethic. Of course, it’s easy for someone to sit across a desk from you and tell you they have an outstanding work ethic, but how will you really know? To be honest, you won’t. This is one that will have to be proven to you — although a phone call or two to some past employers may give you a pretty good idea if they were telling you the truth or not. One further note on this: I truly believe you shouldn’t just write someone off because perhaps in his past he didn’t demonstrate a strong work ethic. A work ethic isn’t necessarily genetic — it can be learned. During my first couple of years on a golf course, back in the late 1980s, I spent as much time trying to avoid work as I spent actually working. I’m glad no one gave up on me. Maturing, as well as being around people that have a strong work ethic, can transform anyone.
  • Curiosity. At first glance this quality may seem a little odd or out of place. But think about it for a minute. Curiosity from a candidate (in the golf club’s history, in the operation, in your management techniques) shows you that a candidate is, at the most basic of levels, thinking about the job. Asking intelligent questions indicates a level of intelligence. Don’t think intelligence is important? In study after study done about hiring the best people, intelligence is the No. 1 quality employers are looking for in candidates. Intelligence indicates one’s ability to plan, organize, set priorities and solve problems.
  • Integrity. Again, not the easiest thing to learn at a first meeting with someone, but there can be subtle indications. Is the potential assistant willing to talk about his weaknesses? Decisions he made in the past that he wishes he could change? Can he point out a situation where he showed loyalty at some level?
  • Likability. This one may seem a little selfish, but that’s OK. You want to enjoy going to work every day. This is a person you will be spending a lot of time with. A LOT OF TIME. Make sure you two click. I’m not saying you have to hang out after work together, but you do want to hit it off. If you think about it, the more likable this person is, the better chance other people (pro shop staff, golfers, your boss) will like your hire as well.

Another added bonus to having that quality assistant is your ability to sleep at night when you have some time off. Trust me, I’ve been at the other end of this spectrum and it’s no fun.

An excellent No. 2 can literally lower the stress you experience in your day-to-day life. That in itself sounds like a pretty good reason to have the right person in place, don’t you think?