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March 3-7, 2026

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Leadership Pitfalls to Avoid - And What to Do Instead



Happy metal worker greeting his manager in aluminum mill.Not everyone is born to be a leader. The good news is that leadership skills can be developed, opening the door to career advancement and higher wages for many in the construction industry.

According to leadership expert Tery Tennant, the first step is recognizing what a good leader actually is. “The measure of a good leader is how well their team functions without them,” Tennant points out.

That concept can be difficult for some to grasp, particularly those who have worked their way up in the construction industry. They tend to rely on their technical skills and have a hard time letting go of the day-to-day tasks they’ve grown accustomed to doing. But let go they must, because they must embrace their new role as a leader and what that responsibility entails.

“As a manager, interpersonal skills become more important,” says Hannah Flint, Leadership Consultant with FMI Consulting, “Your value is now tied to your ability to get work done through other people.”

 Flint and Tennant have identified six common pitfalls a leader must avoid:

  1. Putting out fires rather than proactively developing longer-term solutions.
  2. Making decisions that employees should be making.
  3. Not clearly communicating expectations or holding employees accountable for performance.
  4. Not providing effective performance feedback, coaching, and training.
  5. Failing to focus on interpersonal skills and relationship building.
  6. Not getting feedback from trusted sources.

“These are all symptoms that leadership development is needed,” says Tennant, who with wife, Linda, owns Attainment Inc., a Phoenix-based consulting firm that helps successful people move to the next level.

Learn to prioritize high-payoff activities

Tennant says that one of the biggest leadership challenges is transitioning from a reactive mindset to a proactive one. This requires leaders to have a plan that prioritizes tasks—with total team performance in mind.

“Recognize that efficient and effective are two different things,” says Tennant. “Efficiency is about getting everything done as quickly as possible. Effective is about getting the right things done. A leader needs to get the right things on the task list.”

High-payoff activities (HPAs) are the six most important activities a person should spend at least 80% of their time on. Leaders should first identify their own HPAs. Then they will have time to help employees develop their own.

Leadership HPAs will likely vary by company because every company and circumstance is different. In some companies, leaders will be responsible for certain day-to-day technical tasks. That said, there are some common leadership HPAs that all leaders should have on their priority list:

  • Achieve business financial goals.
  • Communicate company vision, values, and goals.
  • Identify HPAs, key performance indicators, and scorecards for employees.
  • Provide employee performance feedback and coaching.
  • Help employees develop motivation, career plans, and training plans.
  • Develop, document, and improve processes.

“These areas are where a leader should spend most of their time,” Tennant says. “The focus of a leader is all about their employees’ performance. A leader’s job is to make the team more productive.”

Once the leadership HPAs are developed, the next challenge is to get on track in spending the majority of their time on them. Start by scheduling uninterrupted blocks of time to plan and work on HPAs. Identify low-payoff activities that could be delegated to others.

Improve delegation

If a leader is always putting out fires, it may be because they haven’t successfully delegated tasks. According to Flint, it’s not uncommon for field managers and middle managers to be overwhelmed. “They may feel that they can’t take the time to train someone or don’t trust anyone to complete the task the way they want it done,” she says. “Ultimately, taking time to train and build trust in the short term will pay off in the long-term to open up the leader’s time and capacity.”

Effective delegation allows employees to learn more tasks, which enables people to take on more responsibility as a company expands. Delegation also helps leaders free up their time to spend on high-payoff activities for their role like strategic planning, which is the secret to maximizing team performance.

Instead of putting out fires, identify what tasks can be appropriately delegated. It shouldn’t be just the tasks you don’t want to do. “Think about how you can further the development of the employee by assigning meaningful tasks,” says Flint. “Then paint a clear picture of why the task is important and what success looks like.”

Tennant suggests leaders start by identifying a task one of their employees could either do better, for less time or money or simply for their personal development. “Start with tasks that are pretty straightforward, almost mechanical in how they are accomplished,” she says. “This will help leaders begin delegating tasks quickly because less time will be needed on training and oversight.”

Explain why a task is important. Flint believes the more an employee understands why something is important, the more motivated they will be to complete the task correctly.

“Try to avoid telling someone exactly how to do something,” says Flint. “Instead, provide them some autonomy in completing the task and make sure to follow up with coaching and feedback.” When you provide training, coaching, and feedback to employees, you can eventually trust them to make strong decisions on their own.

“If a leader can delegate one task that takes a half-hour each day to complete, the leader will free up an entire month over the course of a year,” says Tennant. Just imagine what could be accomplished with that extra month of time per year.

Identify the root cause of poor performance

Leaders should look for the cause of poor employee performance. Many times, the cause can be traced right back to the leader.  If employees don’t know what to do – it’s likely a communication problem. If employees don’t know why something is important – it’s likely a communication problem. If employees don’t know how to do the job – it’s probably a training problem. If employees don’t want to do the job – there may be a motivation problem.

According to Flint, most people leave their jobs because of their direct managers. “One of the most effective things construction companies can do is to train their managers,” she says.

Provide clear expectations, feedback, and coaching

Leaders should provide clear job expectations—in writing.  With those in place, leaders can provide performance measurements, offer feedback and hold people accountable. “When employees understand what is expected of them, it actually makes the leader’s job a lot easier,” says Tennant.

Feedback and coaching help teams improve. Leaders should never ask if they can provide some constructive criticism, a popular phrase often used in management. “All the employee hears is the second word: criticism,” Construction crew happy working together says Tennant. “Instead, provide coaching. Coaching is a positive word because it’s about getting better and winning as a team.”

It’s important to provide feedback and coaching in a private setting with the employee. On the other hand, it’s OK to publicly praise employees for a job well done. In fact, it’s advised. Public recognition, when an employee or staff follows through on a commitment, is essential to building a self-motivating team.

Focus on developing interpersonal skills

Success as a leader will be greatly determined by the ability to build relationships with people. If this aspect of professional development has been overlooked, it’s time to address it by focusing on emotional intelligence. “Leaders need to develop self-awareness so they can better manage themselves and their relationships with others,” says Flint.

Flint recommends seeking feedback from trusted sources to identify your interpersonal strengths and weaknesses. Ask “What is my reputation as a leader? What is my level of influence within the company?” Executive coaching can also help identify gaps and solutions.

“Some leaders think they must have all the answers,” says Flint. “But some of the strongest leaders admit to what they don’t know and seek wise counsel.”

Sometimes construction leaders can find themselves in the position of managing employees who they have been friends with for a long time. It’s a tough situation for a lot of people. Tennant suggests that one way to manage this is to focus on getting the job done.

Leaders build credibility and inspire their teams when they follow through on their commitments. “Leaders need a system to make sure that when they say they are going to do something, they follow through and do it,” says Tennant.

As the construction industry continues to struggle with attracting and retaining talent, there’s no better time to invest in leadership development for yourself or others on your team.


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