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,” Tery 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 leader and what that responsibility entails.
8 Common pitfalls a leader must avoid
- Using the power of the position rather than coaching
- Reactively putting out fires rather than proactively developing longer-term solutions
- Making decisions their employees should be making
- Micromanaging employees rather than helping them develop
- Not clearly communicating expectations
- Not holding employees accountable for performance
- Not providing effective performance feedback and training
- Assuming that what motivates them will motivate their employees
“These are all symptoms that leadership development is needed,” says Tery, who with wife, Linda, own Attainment Inc., a Phoenix-based consulting firm that helps successful people move to the next level. The Tennants were featured speakers at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017.
“Great leaders find out what motivates each and every person they are managing,” Tery points out. Similarly, leaders should look for the cause of poor employee performance. Many times, the cause can be traced right back to the leader. For example:
- Employees don’t know what to do – likely a communication problem
- Employees don’t know why it’s important – likely a communication problem
- Employees don’t know how to do the job – likely a training problem
- Employees don’t want to do the job – possibly a motivation problem
Learn to prioritize and manage by goals
Linda 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,” Linda says. “Efficient is about getting everything done as quickly as possible. Effective is about getting the right things done. It’s important for a leader to get the right things on the task list.”
High-payoff activities (HPAs) are those six most important activities a person should spend at least 80 percent 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 are 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, 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,” Linda 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 for a leader is to get on track in spending the majority of their time on them. Linda offers some advice:
- Schedule blocks of time to plan and work on HPAs
- Control interruptions during those blocks of time
- Delegate low-payoff activities that others could be doing
Establish a delegation plan
Delegation can be a big challenge for many leaders. Instincts often suggest that the employees will never do a job as well or as quickly as the leader. At the same time, the leader sometimes fears being viewed by their superiors as not working hard enough or making a big enough contribution.
In reality, proper delegation is instrumental to a company’s ability to thrive and grow. Effective delegation allows more employees to learn more tasks, which enables more people to take on more responsibility as a company expands. Delegation also helps leaders free up more of their time to spend on their own HPAs, which is really the secret to maximizing team performance.
“If a leader can delegate one task that takes a half-hour each day to complete, the leader will free up an entire month of time over the course of a year,” Linda points out. Just imagine what could be accomplished with that extra month of time per year.
Leaders can 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,” Linda recommends. This will help leaders begin delegating tasks quickly because less time will be needed on training and oversight.
How to effectively use authority
In many instances, construction industry leaders have been friends with their employees for a long time. Now they are tasked with managing those friends. It’s a tough situation for a lot of people. “Authority must be used effectively, though,” Tery reminds. By following some basic rules of thumb, it can be.
Leaders shouldn’t try to be their employees’ friend. Leaders don’t want to be the enemy, either. The focus simply needs to be on getting the job done.
Leaders must consistently provide feedback, not to mention coaching. This is how leaders help their 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,” Tery points out. “Leaders should simply offer to provide some 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(s) follows through on a commitment is essential to building a self-motivating team.
At the same time, leaders must follow through on their own commitments. This is how leaders build credibility and inspire their teams. “Leaders need a system to make sure that when they say they are going to do something, they follow through and do it,” Tery says.
Finally, leaders must provide clear job expectations—and in writing. “Then leaders can provide performance measurements, offer feedback and hold people accountable,” Tery says. “When employees understand what is expected of them, that actually makes the leader’s job a lot easier.”
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