Contractors, construction foremen, superintendents, and managers ask how they can lead more authentically—how to become actuators instead of manipulators. Do you feel as if you have to drag everybody across the finish line? Here are five ways you can use to change that.
In construction circles, leadership is mostly described as activities focused on networking, business skills, community service, and service to industry organizations. However, those activities largely benefit the outside aspects of construction companies. They're great for company public relations, attracting talent, attracting new business, and attracting partners.
There is another side to leadership, though—the leadership practiced inside the business. According to Dr. Sunnie Giles, a professionally certified executive coach, leadership development consultant and organizational scientist, you need to be five things in order to be an effective leader.
- Highly ethical
- Efficient at learning
- Competent at nurturing growth
- Fostering feelings of connectedness and belonging
Here's what's involved and how to develop each aspect:
1. Be Ethical
After tallying responses of 195 leaders from 30 global organizations, Giles found that high ethical and moral standards topped the list of a leader’s competencies. Her results suggest that people want leaders who are committed to fairness and are playing by the rules. A second, closely related competency is communicating expectations clearly.
While construction's document-heavy processes may help to communicate task expectations, that's not necessarily the case with the human resources side of construction businesses. For the majority of construction workers employed in companies with 10 or fewer employees, the human side of the business is often a second thought, or one left until a problem arises.
That creates environments where people don't feel safe or valued. When leaders don't play fair and don't make their expectations clear, they undermine "engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition."
One suggestion is to focus on helping people feel safe. Instead of setting out to place blame, try understanding what’s happened. Instead of knee-jerk responses that mirror your boss's attitude, try checking in with yourself to see if the course you're following lines up with your principles.
2. Empower Others
Wise leaders know there is untapped power in helping others succeed at what they do. You have to allow power to percolate throughout the organization. One way to do that is to put decision making at the lowest possible level.
Wise leaders know there is untapped power in helping others succeed at what they do.
Assuming you've got competent people doing the work, you should be able to let them decide how to organize their time and work. Make the specifications clear and easily available. Follow up to make sure people understand the tasks, the quality requirements, and the expected completion time. Then, get out of the way and rely on them to manage their work.
There is plenty of evidence that when people feel empowered, they perform at their best. They show higher levels of job satisfaction and are more committed to their organization. But, it's actually their bosses who often hold them back.
If you're afraid to relinquish power, Giles suggests opening up to how you feel when someone challenges your position. When you feel threatened, your primitive brain resorts to flight, fight, or freeze. It doesn’t have to stay this way, though. You can train yourself to relax instead of allowing fear to dominate.
3. Help People Belong
When you communicate the schedule openly and often, you set the tone for group goal accomplishment. Construction is largely a linear process. Each task depends on a task done before it. Reviewing the schedule reinforces how people must depend on each other.
By helping people understand that you all succeed or fail together, you reinforce a sense of belonging among your own people. This can even extend to subcontractors and other project participants. Giles suggests that a sense of connection with others helps people be more productive and feel better about themselves. That's because emotions are contagious.
When you smile at people, remember their names, and remember their interests, you improve communications with them and convey the feeling that you care. Even doing something simple like coming up with a motto for the team helps to improve connectedness.
4. Stay Open
Construction is an industry steeped in tradition and stewed in the way things have always been done.
Construction is an industry steeped in tradition and stewed in the way things have always been done. While it's important to have good reasons for changing materials and construction methods, there are plenty of other construction aspects that could do with some learning and new approaches.
To foster learning, try to use brainstorming methods for problem-solving. To overcome risk aversion, try supporting risk-taking. You can use controlled experiments to test small aspects of suggestions so you are only exposed to small failures; thus, you’ll be able to get quick feedback that allows you to correct your assumptions without catastrophic damage.
5. Nurture Growth
You will never regret helping someone to grow into the next role. Advocate for your people, support them with training, and help them succeed with the initiatives that are important to them. Remember, they need leadership training as well as leadership examples. For better or for worse, you are that example.