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May 12, 2016
The construction industry has gotten a lot of attention for its focus on training the craft workers necessary to replace the more than 17 percent of the workforce that will retire over the next five years. Equally important is the need to train the industry’s future leaders.
Company leaders are also retiring and to ensure future success, new leaders need to be trained to take the reins.
Many company founders and leaders started as carpenters, electricians, painters or plumbers and worked their way up. With that as a model, it makes sense for current leadership to look within their companies for people with both the innate ability as leaders and the willingness to learn new skills to prepare for leadership roles.
I have the opportunity to work with many foremen, superintendents, project engineers, project managers and design professionals who all have different personalities and somewhat different work styles. Relating to each of them can be difficult unless I take the time to understand their needs and abilities. Being supportive and communicating effectively can be challenging if I try to work the same way with every person.
I recently attended a workforce conference sponsored by Associated Builders & Contractors that offered several seminars on improving leadership styles. Some of the take-a-ways of particular interest were:
• Our leadership style mirrors our personality style.
• We need to build leaders at every level in our organization.
• We must understand the ground rules of our working relationships.
• It’s important to know ourselves and be accountable for our work.
• To be an effective leader we must listen, be consistent, have transparency, courage, integrity, make the tough decisions and have a positive outlook.
• We must take ownership of our circumstances.
• Good leaders strive to be respected, rather than liked.
• Relationships must be built over time.
• Leaders must be responsive, timely in follow up and honest.
Leadership is about influencing people, not forcing them to do things. In observing leaders that inspire me, I learn how I can improve my skills.
A leader I greatly admire is a person who often said that she “led from behind.” What she meant was that she carefully assessed what people wanted and needed then helped them find it through guidance rather than pulling them along. She successfully led an organization for more than 25 years and gained wide respect within the construction industry from people who both agreed and disagreed with her philosophically. She could always be counted on to tell the truth and whether she agreed with them or not, treated people with respect. I aspire to be more like this in my own leadership roles.
Motivating and inspiring people helps everyone rise to their highest potential. Keeping people well informed about overall goals and the steps needed to achieve them encourages them to stay focused and dedicated. If people are unaware or feel left out of the loop they can lose enthusiasm and not fully participate in achieving goals.
History is a great teacher of effective leadership style. Henry Ford developed the assembly line to build a car that people could afford. To make that happen he developed the assembly line that was a series of small, easily achievable tasks that led to a common goal. He identified the strengths of many people, trained them to do what they could do best and by delegating was able to not only successfully lead his company but also to revolutionize manufacturing.
Take time to read about inspirational leaders and incorporate their traits into your own tool box.
Leadership roles often necessitate dealing with people who are underperforming or doing something more egregious, which can be tricky. Most of us don’t like confrontation. However, it is best to discuss difficult situations quickly and always with respect for the other person. When offered correction or discipline in a respectful manner, most people will take it well and work to change to meet expectations.
Our industry associations offer numerous programs for all levels of leadership, from project supervision training to management training. There are also many opportunities to learn and practice leadership skills. From joining Toastmasters to improving communication skills to enrolling in executive programs and everything in between, we can and should work on becoming better leaders in every aspect of our lives.
I believe the worst thing that can be said about someone in a leadership role is that they have risen to the level of their incompetency. The best is that a leader is truly an inspiration, bringing out the best in all. I work every day to become the latter.
Jamie Creek is senior project manager at Synergy Construction and board chair of the ABC of Western Washington. His leadership positions have included construction company owner, vice president of construction at The Fortune Group and president of the Sno-Valley North Little League Association.