Throughout my consulting career, I’ve been working with company executives focusing on the pressing problems of the construction industry. While many of those challenges call for operational, financial, or organizational solutions, we usually find that an awful lot of them are, at their core, people problems.
After all, the research tells us that 70 percent of the people who quit a job do so because of their boss, not the work itself. Employee engagement is directly impacted by how leaders show up. In an era where there is a serious shortage of people, great leadership can become your ultimate competitive advantage.
In this column, over time I hope to present the most common people problems, discuss the negative impact they have on companies like yours, then suggest general approaches to solving them.
Here’s the leadership problem, in a nutshell, that we face in our industry. Many who excelled in the first half of their careers did so because of an aptitude for details, processes, and procedures. They are task-oriented and results-driven. Because of their success, they were promoted into management roles.
What we don’t tell them is that now, in their new role, the scorecard for success has dramatically changed. In the words of executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, “what got you here won’t get you there.” They can fix project problems; people problems are something else altogether! So, they go back to what they know best and, in the process, frustrate their direct reports, resorting to behaviors we describe as “micro-managing.”
There’s a better way.
In my work with Boards and senior executives of construction companies, my team shares some essential traits of leadership that can be learned in an hour, but which take a lifetime to master. They are leadership behaviors and are not dependent on a person’s position or title.
They can be remembered through the acronym SAM.
Setting Direction — Like the scouts and wagon bosses of the Old West wagon trains, leaders know where they’re going and can hold the course, taking others with them to a preferable future. Setting direction is about “the why.”
Aligning Resources — Great leaders make sure their people have all they need for the win (tools, people, information) and actively seek to remove obstacles that block the success of their teams.
Motivating and Inspiring — Leaders know virtually everyone needs to occasionally reconnect with the things that are most important to them. To the extent that leaders can remind people of their personal “why” for work, they will inspire people to be fully engaged.
We work with many executives who have leadership titles but usually practice managerial behaviors. Managers are good at planning, organizing, and controlling outcomes. All of these are important and necessary, but they do not fill those fundamental human needs to know where we’re going, have the resources to get our work done, and be reminded regularly of why the work is important. Anyone who demonstrates SAM behaviors is leading, regardless of their position.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not an either/or. Organizations and people need management. But they also need leadership, and usually more than we think. That’s why the successful teams I work with always emphasize that a leader must pay attention to what people need.
What would happen in your company if you could dial up the leadership capacity of every person by 5 to 10 percent? My experience and FMI’s research concur — these so-called “soft skills” will lead to some measurable, objective results.
Let us know what your experience is as you become more intentional about setting direction, aligning resources, and motivating and inspiring your team.
Editor’s note: SMACNews will be providing a leadership column each month featuring Ron Magnus, managing director, Center for Strategic Leadership, FMI Corporation. Ed Rowell, a consultant with FMI’s Center for Strategic Leadership (CSL), will be working with Ron in the development of content for this column.