Looking Toward the Future: Developing Leaders in the Construction Industry
December 5, 2016
Many people start construction businesses because they want to control their own destinies. They’re willing to work hard and put in long hours, knowing their efforts will directly influence their companies’ success and their own financial rewards. Some are inspired and mentored by business owners they’d worked for earlier; others go out on their own to escape incompetent or oppressive managers.
Whatever the impetus was for starting your construction business, you need skilled leadership to make it prosper and grow. And this necessity doesn’t pertain only to you as company owner. To build a sustainable enterprise over the long term, owners must develop leaders within the employee ranks — people who can take on increasing responsibilities and thrive.
As the industry continues to struggle with a shortage of skilled workers, as well as the ongoing loss of retiring Baby Boomers, your construction company’s long-term profitability may depend on the efficacy of its leadership at every level.
Management vs. leadership
Management skills and leadership skills are both critical to a construction business, but there are basic differences between the two. Effective managers set clear goals, make short-term plans, solve practical problems and behave in an ethically and, ideally, supportive manner. They’re good at directing operations, organizing efforts and keeping score.
Strong leaders, on the other hand, use what could be called “softer” skills. They’re good at:
Good leaders look toward the future. They take a long-range view of the business and will take calculated risks to make it succeed. They don’t want just to do things right in the here and now; they want to be first in line to do things right tomorrow.
Strong leadership carries over to your workforce. People want to follow leaders who have a clear vision of the future, a positive attitude and an encouraging manner. It’s hard to get fired up by a boss who’s always complaining about problems, performance and competitors.
Where you stand
To improve your own leadership skills, you’ve got to consider your habits and proactively seek out opportunities for positive change. For example, think about the last time you implemented a new marketing or sales strategy, or delegated key responsibilities to one of your managers. If it’s been a long time since you’ve taken such steps, you may need to step away from the day-to-day and hone your leadership skills.
Your employees may also harbor good ideas about how to become a better leader. Consider issuing a confidential survey to gather ideas for improvements. Be prepared, however, to receive negative feedback as well as positive. And, to the extent possible, act on the suggestions made.
A culture of leadership
Seeking and paying attention to good ideas from within your company is one mark of good leadership. It not only can spark positive changes in the way you run the business, but also signals to employees that you recognize and value their contributions.
But don’t stop there. Talking with employees at all levels in your organization should expose you to those with the talent and capacity to lead. Once you spot that talent, work to provide opportunities for those individuals to develop and bloom.
For instance, establish a task force to solve a problem your construction company is facing and put a promising young employee at its head. Or ask a potential leader to recruit a team charged with proposing new initiatives, processes or programs. Again, just be prepared to implement the ideas that make the most sense.
Your business may seem like a ship tossed upon the unpredictable waves of local and national economic changes, building trends and tough competition. But the leadership skills of you and your best employees can guide your company through these storms to the calm waters of manageable expenses and a strong bottom line.
Industry groups offer formal and informal leadership training
One function of industry organizations such as the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is to train and develop effective leaders. These groups and others offer programs at the national, state and local levels, where members can take classes, exchange information and gain leadership experience.
For example, AGC’s Construction Leadership Council was established as a conduit for participants to:
It sponsors an Annual Leadership Development Conference in the fall and publishes a quarterly newsletter about professional development activities.
ABC also offers live and online leadership skills training. In addition, the organization sponsors Leadership Week, an annual conference with tracks devoted to construction management, chapter leadership and young professionals’ leadership development.
Similar programs are available for subcontractors active in various trades. And large construction industry trade shows often offer leadership training, as well as technical seminars, as part of their educational programs.
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