How to Be a Leader Your Construction Workers Want to Follow

It’s the leader’s job to discover what makes each person tick, do their best and produce outstanding results for their construction company

People want to follow a leader who has a passionate vision, specific targets and goals, excellent communication skills, cares about them, and lets others be involved in making decisions and taking responsibility to get things done.
People want to follow a leader who has a passionate vision, specific targets and goals, excellent communication skills, cares about them, and lets others be involved in making decisions and taking responsibility to get things done.

Get over it! People don’t want to follow big bad bosses who order people around and tell them what to do. People want to follow a leader who has a passionate vision, specific targets and goals, excellent communication skills, cares about them, and lets others be involved in making decisions and taking responsibility to get things done.  

Another thing to remember is that people who work for you are not you. They don't think like you and they work differently than you. And just because you pay them a good salary doesn't mean they're going to work their fanny off the same way you do. To get them to follow your vision and achieve big goals, you've got to give them a reason to want to follow. People are motivated for their reasons, not yours. It’s the leader’s job to discover what makes each person tick, do their best and produce outstanding results.

Think of your children. You tell them what you want them to do, but they don’t always do it. Then you try to bribe them to no avail. Frustrated, you scream, "If you're not home by 10:00 p.m., I'm going to kill you!" Well, you don't. You let them off the hook. So they continue to stretch the envelope, as there’s no accountability, no responsibility and no consequences. It seems like nothing works with your kids, just like with employees.

Do they want to do it?

Leadership is really about influencing others to want to do what you want them to do. They key words are "to want to do." They've got to want to do it. You tell and they decide if they’ll do it. When you tell your kids to clean up their room, they decide if they’ll do it based on their needs, consequences, accountabilities and responsibilities.

Ask yourself: “What makes people want to follow me?” You know what doesn't work with children and employees: confusion, lack of trust, no integrity, no accountability and no consequences.

A lot of managers say, "My people won’t do what I want them to do, so I should get rid of them and try to find some good help.” But will new employees solve the problem? No! The leader has to change to get people to want to follow. It’s the leader’s role to inspire and encourage people so they want to do tasks in the most efficient, productive and fastest way possible.

What people need

People need two things – money and happiness. Money includes fair pay at a secure company with stability and competitive benefits. Happiness is the same as being motivated. Leaders motivate people to perform with exciting leadership, motivation, inspiration, holding people accountable and giving them responsibility. The leader is the catalyst who motivates people to put out more effort with more enthusiasm and get them to go beyond the minimum required.

The buck stops here!

In most companies, the owner or president, as leader, is 100% responsible for everything sales, profits, growth, quality, customer service, how organized the company is, people, management, etc. Poor leaders blame poor results on circumstances beyond their control. They sit and wait for the economy to turn around, or some other miraculous event, while they don’t do anything different or decisive. Leaders have to make it happen. Now!

Look at Sears. They can blame their slow death on Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or whatever they want to. But in reality, the leaders of Sears were stuck in the past and made decisions to stay the course, do business the same way and not change their business model. The leaders hoped their new competition would go away. The leaders didn’t do what they needed to do. No vision. They got eaten alive, and now continue to scramble to keep up with their competition. It won’t happen. It’s too late.

Change me first!

Achieving great results is the main indicator of the leader’s vision and performance. Real leaders make quick decisive decisions to change their business to get results. Most leaders don't walk into their office and say, "I've made a big decision, I've decided to change me, how I manage, how I lead, and the direction of our company.”

Poor leaders walk into their office and point fingers at others by saying: "Why aren’t you making it happen? You've got to work harder. You've got to get this done now.”

To get people motivated to follow, leaders must have the courage to change themselves first. They must be willing to change their behavior, do something different, innovate, try new methods and go against the grain.

What makes you exciting?

I speak at a lot of conventions to entrepreneurs, small- to medium-size businesses, construction company owners and manufacturing companies. Their common business challenge is how to make a profit against too much competition. Making good profits and getting bottom-line results start with the leader having a dynamic and focused vision people can get excited about. People want to be a part of something exciting and will follow leaders on a mission.

Effective leaders stand up and say, "Here's where we're going, and here’s how we’ll make it happen." Something people can really, really get excited about, instead of the standard: "Work hard and we'll see how it comes out; and if we do well, maybe we'll give you bonus or a raise."

People get tired of repeating the same tasks over and over again without any excitement, vision or passion from leadership like digging a long ditch. And, when they’re done, they just get another ditch to dig. Then they’ll find some more ditches. This doesn't make people excited about coming to work and making a difference in the bottom-line.

What’s your exciting vision?

Effective leaders start with an exciting focused vision and then connect it to specific results they want. Some companies have a vision to be the best company, the best contractor, the best service provider, or provide the best quality. While that's an OK vision, it’s not exciting.

Examples of exciting visions:

  • Be recognized as the area leader in customer service
  • Being number one in building difficult technical projects
  • Finishing jobs faster than your competition
  • Being known for helping your customers make a profit

Provide clear targets to hit!

People need to know exactly what you want them to achieve the expected specific results. Weak leaders assume people understand what’s required, don’t take the time to spell out what they want and don’t make people accountable for results. The norm is to tell people to work real hard and try their best.

But, this doesn’t let people know exactly what’s expected. They must be told exactly what results you want: “By Friday I expect you to have this installed and 100% complete. By the 30th of the month all invoices must be out.”

Be specific with clear targets and exact results clearly defined. Make sure people understand what the target is, what’s acceptable and what’s not, when they hit or miss it, the consequences for not achieving results, and the rewards for a good job.

Recognize and praise

Leaders provide ongoing recognition and praise to people who do the work. Weak leaders, who don’t take time to thank people for a job well done, get weak results. In a survey why people left their company, over 90% said they'd never been recognized or praised by their boss, ever, for anything.

People want and need feedback and positive reinforcement for their contributions and efforts. Leaders give praises at least every week to everyone in their sphere of influence. Use words like, “I appreciate you” and “Thanks for a great job.”

Share the big picture

Employees need a clear understanding of the big picture and how they fit in. Leaders share where the company is going its’ vision, future, positive and negatives, and changes required to be successful. People need to know, otherwise they tend to think the worst.

I present seminars to managers who come up with great ideas to build and improve their businesses. When they go back to their offices the next day, their people are often afraid they've been scheming how to squeeze them to work harder. That's not reality, but without information, people fear the worse.

Leaders constantly tell the real deal business is good or bad, sales are up or down, productivity is acceptable or not, whether people are doing a good job or not, and the profit picture.

Show you care

Leaders let their people know they care about them as individuals. People need to know you appreciate them; you care about their goals, their future, their kids, and their families. People must know they're important, and their needs and wants will be considered as they contribute to the entire organization’s success.

Put leadership to work!

Ask the people who work for you: "What's the vision of our company? What are we trying to accomplish? What are our top three priorities? What specific targets are we shooting for? What results are important?" You'll get 37 different answers if you have 37 people working for you.

To get the results you want, get everyone on the same page from top to bottom. Leading and getting results starts with yourself. Change, innovate and try new ways of doing business. Communicate your clear exciting vision. Define specific targets with expected results. And make it happen!

George Hedley CSP CPBC is a certified professional construction BIZCOACH and popular industry speaker. He helps contractors grow, make more profit, build management teams, improve field productivity, and get their businesses to work for them.  He is the best-selling author of “Get Your Construction Business To Always Make A Profit!” available on  E-mail [email protected] to sign-up for his free e-newsletter, start a personalized BIZCOACH program, attend a 2 day BIZ-BUILDER Boot Camp, or get a discount at online university for contractors. Visit for more information.