The Contractor’s Best Friend /11-13-2013/ The “ACTS” of Leadership

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Leadership continues to be such a broad subject to address, which the plethora of books on and about leadership bears witness.  One keen observation I’ve made over the past 30 years is that the most effective leaders in construction have always been “action-oriented” leaders.

Watching such successful leaders has allowed me to capture some of the “acts” as a leader.  So, what I’d like to share with you are the “ACTS” of Leadership. 

Accountability

Is there any more important leadership need in our workforce than accountability?  No matter the size of the construction company you own or lead, accountability is perhaps the one trait that you rank highest of the traits needed in workers. 

Let me briefly address accountability from two sides: personal accountability and leading accountability in others.  First, personal accountability.

As a leader it is our obligation to be THE person who is accountable to the company’s values, who follows the company’s work processes and reinforces the company’s commitment to quality, safety and overall excellence.  A leader who picks and chooses the company rules he or she wants to follow will find an increasing load of challenges and problems from the workforce.

Accountability is:

  • Doing what you say you will do
  • Showing up to meetings on time
  • Following up with that worker who asked you to check on a shortage in last week’s paycheck
  • Facing angry customers when needed…and professionally
  • Apologizing to workers when what you promised isn’t going to happen
  • Being quick to take the heat when you forget to prepare a crew

I think you see from the list above that there are many ways that accountability can be personally lived out.  The key here is to realize that as a leader, “It’s really not about ME anymore…it’s about THEM.”

Now, when leading accountability, the leader must be a bit more proactive in reaching out to staff and workers.  “Living” your company values is important but as a leader you will also need to address the same to others, including why and how they need to be accountable.  Herein lie a few challenges.  Consider some tips on leading accountability.

Lead Accountability by:

  1. Always making sure that expectations, goals, decisions etc. are clear and understood
  2. Explaining the purpose or reason behind a decision or direction that a project or your company is taking
  3. Updating project and crew workers to the needs and expectations of the customer
  4. Following up with staff and workers after changes or decisions have been put into place
  5. Confronting quickly, personally and professionally when there are individuals resisting the needed changes or work habits
  6. Developing some performance “metrics” that measure the effectiveness of put into place strategies, action steps etc.

There are perhaps another hundred or more examples that would provide yet more ways to lead accountability but the six items just listed should be helpful.

Consistency

The construction leader who has proven to be accountable has also demonstrated consistency.  Consistency seems to be a close relative to being accountable.  Think about it; how many times have you thought after a crew performed heroically on a project, “If we could just do that on every project!”

Yet another aspect of consistency that is important to grasp is how much depends on the memory of workers today.  Quite honestly, much of the inconsistency that I see with contractors isn’t due to their not wanting to accomplish something -- they want to excel.  But much of the inconsistency is due to leaders being so busy that they’ve simply forgotten when they were to have called someone, or followed-up on a task etc.

But how do you build consistency as a leader?  This is a great question and the answer can take many forms.  Consider a few tips for leading consistency in your company.

  • Clearly understand the practical “how tos” associated with a project or decision integration
  • Be just as clear about the time needs for whatever is going to be executed
  • Recognize the benefit to those you remind about completing some aspect of work that is critical for the project, crew or your company
  • Depending on the importance of the project or decision, schedule “pre-call” reminders to insure everyone involved is reminded
  • Write down on paper or enter electronically the effort needed including the date, time and as much about what is needed as possible
  • Include more specific questions about updating work schedules during staff or crew meetings
  • Educate workers when successful results have been achieved, explaining what happened, when, why, and how
  • Prior to each new task or project take the time to, once again, line-out expectations, scheduled order of events, who is doing what, when, and where etc.

Consistency is the spice of life for a contractor.  Much of what is needed here is developing what golfers call “muscle retention.”  This is where a golfer has hit a particular type of shot, say a sand wedge in a bunker, so many times that his hands, arms, legs and mind almost instinctively respond to the need.  Championship golfers will speak of hitting their pitching wedge 1,000 times in a week of practice or hitting 200 putts from different locations on a green.

While it might take a contractor’s crew years to perform a task 1,000 times, the same principle is at play.  We need to communicate with our workers to purposely approach each effort with a purpose to replicate excellence.  It’s not enough to win once; we want to win over and over again.  We want to practice the winning efforts so that nothing but regular excellence is exercised.

Teach-ability

One thing I’ve learned from some of the best contractors is their great appetite for learning.  They really enjoy learning, and learning from just about everyone. 

Observing this great trait in leaders has also convinced me that these individuals respect other people.  They are not so smart that they can’t submit their ego just low enough to be able to learn from another individual.  I’ve also noticed that the leaders with “teach-ability” in their profile enjoy people, all sorts of people.  They can talk (and listen) to just about everyone…and often do!

Here are a few things that can make being a teachable contractor more accessible.

  • Begin to see a “W” on the foreheads of others (Winner)
  • Look for the expertise in others and ask them how they developed it in their career
  • Ask questions of others about how they made a decision
  • When you send your workers to a conference, ask them to report back to you what they learned
  • Don’t allow a “teachable moment” to slip by when your company has just learned from a huge mistake
  • Ask you staff to update you on what they are learning
  • Begin a “best practice” sharing moment at company meetings where anyone can share something that they just learned
  • Swallow your pride and don’t be shy about saying, “I don’t know…but I’m going to find out!”

Strategy

If there is one single need for contractors and leaders today it is the need to be strategic in more daily decision-making, planning and job task execution.  While construction is full of tactical geniuses we have far fewer strategic thinkers. 

Doubt the last sentence?  Consider the amount of rework, callbacks and repeated mistakes during the course of the year.  Much of this cost is due to workers making decisions for “today” rather than considering how a decision will impact “tomorrow.” 

We definitely need construction leaders, at all levels, to make on-the-spot effective decisions.  However, some of the daily “fire-fighting” that takes place is really due to some of the same leaders not having prepared for potential scenarios.  Preparing for “what ifs” can actually empower decision makers to be broader in how they address preventing problems before a situation requires a genius decision!

OK, so how do construction leaders become more strategic in their thinking and decision-making?  Let’s look at four easy-to-remember techniques.  Consider:

  1. Potential Consequences – What are the possible costs associated with each decision option? Financial, Labor & Patience of Customer?
  2. History – Have we made a similar decision in the past?  If so, what did we learn that could assist us this time around?
  3. People Engaged –Do we have the right “team” of folks for the required effort? Who will be affected by the decision?
  4. Process Adjustment – If needed, can we adjust our normal approach to better address the new challenge?

Strategic thinking doesn’t require an elaborate process.  It’s preparing each week and each day for decisions that will need to be executed.  While we will always have surprises and emergencies, the construction leader who clearly looks at his or her daily and weekly needs, thinking in advance of what could happen, will tend to move toward faster and more-effective decision making.

The “ACTS” of any leader can take the leader and those whom they work with to a higher level of success.  Accountability, Consistency, Teach-ability, and Strategy are all components that can turn your acts into profitable results!

Make sure your leadership ACTS are well grounded on solid principles.

Brad Humphrey  

© 2013 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™

 

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