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Monroe Porter

Better leadership means better employees
By Monroe Porter

Leadership is a vague term that is thrown around a lot with little substance or real understanding. Believe it or not, being a better leader as owner or upper management in your company is one of the most valuable things you have to offer as a small business. Let’s start with some definitions that clarify the difference between leadership and management.

Management is about control. It is about staying on the top of the day-to-day details required to run a business. The only thing you can really control is time, quality and money. Don’t get me wrong, good management is important but it shouldn’t be confused with good leadership.

One might argue you can control people short-term by managing behavior but it is difficult. As employers, we can, to some degree, force people to do what is expected through work rules, pay and systems. However, a forced employee is not necessarily an inspired employee.

Leadership is about people. It is the skill of influencing people to build a common commitment to organization goals. Leaders gain commitment rather than compliance. Leaders create an environment where employees feel like they are part of the solution. They buy in to company objectives. Through communication, leaders reinforce where the company is going and build employee engagement.

I like to describe management without leadership as similar to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” In the big picture it really doesn’t matter.

Contractors must sharpen their leadership skills because they are the single greatest employment advantage a small employer has over a large company. Day-to-day employees at Ford Motor Company don’t get to interact with someone named Ford or an executive of the company. Warren Buffet owns dozens of companies but no one really expects to work with him daily. At a small business, ownership can interact with employees and hands-on build a better organization.

Work on your ‘tude
With such low unemployment, people are leaving jobs at record numbers. With unemployment hovering near 4%, the “take this job and shove it” attitude is growing. In fact, many economists consider full employment to be around 4% as that is the amount of people working at any given time. In today’s hot employment environment, unhappy employees are going to leave.

Contractors have to change their attitude and interaction styles to attract and keep good people. Too many contractors are buried in the day to day grind, and are quick to point fault when something goes wrong but are slow to sing company praises or success. Many don’t know how to have a leadership conversation and confuse leadership practices with reviews.

Practicing better leadership has little to do with the often-dreaded practice of giving employee reviews and discussing pay. It’s not about the individual employee but rather about where the company is going and strategically what is needed. Employees like to work at a place that is succeeding and moving forward, but employers tend to focus on the negative.

Don’t confuse niceties, company parties and being a good guy with leadership. Leadership is about respect, not friendship. It is about gaining commitment and engaging those around you to jump on the company bandwagon. It’s about feeling good about where you work and believing in the company.

Yea, yea I know what you are thinking: This is all a waste of time and I don’t understand construction people. Not so. People are people. Everyone wants to be appreciated. If you don’t pay attention to your spouse, you stand a chance of losing him or her. If you don’t pay attention to your employees, you stand a chance of losing them. And I know as a small business owner, employees can hurt your feelings and it is hard not to take things personally. But don’t punish everyone for the sins of a few. Here are some things to work on and consider when making your place a better organization.

  • Publish your successes. Make known when the company does well and why you appreciate everyone’s effort. If you have a unique large job, maybe you can take photos of the crew with it and give prints to the crew and customers. It’s easy and inexpensive to do.

  • Share things that are changing in the company such as software, new equipment methods, etc. Let people know what is going on and why. Too often we do things like put GPS on trucks and employees merely think we are checking up on them. Explain that it helps with safety, vehicle theft and insurance.

  • If rain, a unique job or other circumstances lead to overtime and extra commitment, explain what is going on and that it is a temporary situation. Remember, people will make an extra effort in unusual circumstances, but if you ask them over and over to run that extra mile, they will eventually give up.

  • Talk one-on-one with people. Shake their hand. Have good eye contact. Show some interest. Tell them where the company is going and ask them how they see things. Try to gather information from the bottom up. Remember, if one person said it was a problem, it may not be. If everyone says it is a problem, it is a problem, even it is only about perception and not the real facts.

Think about what it is like to work for you. Is it push, push and all negative? Would you work for you? Would you want your kids long term to work for you? Contracting pace today is fast and hectic. Texts and emails make it even more demanding. Even so, take time to smell the roses, share some success and interact. You don’t want to become a member of the “take this job and shove it” club.

Monroe Porter is president of PROOF Management Consultants, a company specializing in seminars, and business consulting for contractors. He is also founder of PROSULT™ Networking Groups developed to help noncompeting contractors. Call (804) 267-1688, email Monroe@Proofman.com or visit Proofman.com