Lessons From ‘A Christmas Story’
Take this leadership lesson from Ralphie and Coach
How can the classic sports movie “A Christmas Story” teach us about construction project leadership and management? Success in construction is all about implementation, which is something that Ralphie teaches to us clearly in the movie.
So, I need to deal with two issues: one is that some of you don’t believe that this is a genuine, Christmas sports movie, and the second is that some others of you don’t think it has any lessons for us that will improve our businesses. But you’re wrong.
Here is the movie’s 60-second summary: Ralphie is a kid with a dream: He wants a BB gun for Christmas so badly that he can almost taste it. And not just any BB gun – an “Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.” He thinks about it day and night. He’s pretty mild-mannered, almost to a fault, and almost afraid of his own shadow. He’s afraid of the bullies in his school. However, he aspires to greatness, but in a quiet way.
During the movie, Ralphie becomes “the man.” In a terrific fight sequence, he’s finally had enough, stands up to two bullies, beats the cheese out of one, and scares the other away. Shades of Rocky – you can almost hear his theme music in the background!
So, that’s why this is, indeed, a holiday sports movie, since part of winning in any sporting event is believing so strongly in a principle that you will now take action, just because it is the right thing to do. And Ralphie did!
Here’s the funny thing: When Ralphie proved Coach’s point that this is a sports movie, he also made my other point, that there is a construction PM lesson lurking in the movie as well: Part of winning in any sporting event is believing so strongly in a principle that you will now take action, just because it is the right thing to do.
If you think I am repeating myself, you are partially right. But don’t miss this: Lessons and principles sometimes look a lot like each other. What Ralphie did in that instant, when he was threatened by a bully, was to take him on. That’s probably the best way to deal with a bully.
What about you? Have you ever been bullied by someone on a project? Maybe a GC who acted like it should be your privilege to be working on his job? Possibly a CM who expected that any whim of his or the project owner should be taken care of by you, and without extra cost? “…and if you don’t like it, you’ll never work for us again…” – that kind of thing? Well, that’s a bully. And you either have to challenge bullies or just agree to shut up and take it. Ralphie didn’t want to take it anymore. In the movie, Ralphie took it to the bullies. Good for Ralphie!
And there is a principle involved here: There is a right way and a wrong way to deal with issues. Now, you can argue that Ralphie might have gotten a little extreme, but he did the right thing, at least philosophically. He challenged.
As to principle, Ralphie knew that what the bullies were asking was wrong. He shouldn’t give in to them. Since Coach Gary likes to stand on principle, and avoid fist fights, I favor using the law. In most cases, it is conveniently written right into our contracts, and it instructs us as to what we can do. It usually tells us that we don’t have to allow bullying. And, check this out: It was written by the bullies, thinking that it was in their best interest! But these things have a tendency to cut both ways, if you know what you’re looking for and how to use it.
You are the leader, at least on your projects. Learn your lessons well, abide by tested principles, and you could prosper. Ignoring lessons and principles will cost you, even in the short run. You just need to get a plan. Begin by understanding the value in RFIs and change order requests. Coach’s info below is free for you; ignoring it can be very expensive.
Here’s a good place to start: Resolve that your company will no longer be bullied into working for free. Every company does some things for free, but you should realize that there is a difference between making a donation because you want to help, and being coerced into doing something that is not in your own best interest.
The year 2011 is upon us. By the time you finish reading this column, it is already knocking at your door. Go into that New Year with a plan, having learned your lessons, and having agreed to stick by your principles.
Look, next year will likely still be pretty grim in our business. Hopefully, things will improve. Your strategy has to be that of a survivor. If you don’t survive, you can’t win. So, be passionate about winning. Give yourself a chance. Get your own version of an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle! And careful how you use it. If you aren’t, you just might shoot your eye out.
Coach Gary's CornerGet a plan for 2011. Want to try and get Coach Gary to speak for your group, or coach your company? You can at least ask! Also, he is offering you, without cost, your own, free, five-part report on getting paid for changes on your project. Visit www.FullContactTeam.com, and click on the link below the arrows. The report is free; not knowing the info. is very expensive! Masonry readers get this report, along with free video tips from Coach Gary. Go there now.
About the Author
Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at FullContactTeam@gmail.com.
Copyright 2010 Gary Micheloni