Research shows that the single biggest factor in an organization’s success or failure is its culture. Every corporation has a culture, whether we recognize it or not. Cultures do not simply evolve out of the ether and descend on a company. The mood, the morale, the ethos, and the politics of any organization are created by the organization’s leadership either intentionally or unintentionally. 

Construction’s a Tough Racket

Most construction company CEOs I talk to are unaware of their impact on their company’s culture. Most believe that construction employees work for “good” money and merely “put up with” unsafe working conditions, fatigue, abusive bosses, boring routine, injury, bad weather, incompetent colleagues, layoffs, primitive tools, and substandard materials. After all, “construction’s a tough racket”.

On The Job

It is true. Construction workers work for money. That’s why they show up. But on the job many other factors affect their performance.

  • Studies show that employees treated with respect, for example, return the feeling by respecting the job and the quality of the work being performed.
  • When the boss takes the time to be attentive by taking an interest in an employee’s personal welfare, that employee feels a “personal” connection to the boss and takes a revitalized interest in the boss’s success.
  • Construction workers perform with 25 to 35% more efficiency when they are consulted about work related quality issues. Tradesmen who are simply “told” what to do rarely take a personal interest in the work. Tradesmen who are “consulted” about their expertise and how it fits into the overall job plan take a continued interest in the outcome of the entire project. 

Four Leadership Traits

Great leaders like Vince Lombardi who inspire organizations and instill winning cultures share four common traits. We call these traits the four legs of leadership because, like a table, each leg needs the other three to stand. 

  1. Empathy the ability to think and feel what your employees think and feel. 

Without empathy, effective communication is impossible. You may presume you know what your crew wants and needs, but without empathy you are probably wrong. If you tend to give orders, make demands, fire readily, and only motivate with money, you probably lack empathy and are not communicating with your employees. 

The first step in becoming an empathic leader is active listening. 

“Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.” 

(Lee Iococca, former president and CEO, Chrysler Corporation.)

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

(Bernard Baruch, American financier and presidential advisor)

  1. Honesty – the impulse to be candid and factually accurate. 

Many construction CEOs believe they must either placate or frighten employees into minimum standards of performance. 

  • Making believe that everything is going great when all the employees know that everything is falling apart. 
  • Making promises that everyone knows you will never keep.
  • Slipping an extra $50 into a foreman’s work shirt pocket after asking him to cover up a safety issue.
  • Always finding someone else to blame for company failures.
  • Never telling anyone what you’re really thinking.

Soldiers will not follow a general into battle they don’t trust. Complete and constant candor is the only way.

  1. Intention – Knowing and communicating clear and consistent objectives. 

Great leaders inspire their team to adopt the company’s objectives and make them their own. They carefully tie individual employee motivation to achieving the objectives established for the whole company. They always answer the individual team member’s inner question, “What’s in it for me?” A thoroughly crafted Management by Objective program can be designed all the way down to the laborers in the field. 

  1. Focus – Never taking your eye off the ball. 

In this highly volatile and complex industry it is easy to become distracted by daily challenges and take your eye off the ball. Many leaders are influenced by shifting circumstances and become distracted from their stated objectives. This confuses “the team” and the workforce and weakens their focus on the objective. Great leaders never lose sight of the overall objective even in the heat of the battle, and their singlemindedness constantly refocuses their team.

It takes the four essential elements of great leaders to create a positive corporate culture. We can’t all be Vince Lombardi, but we can all take his advice:

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

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