If you show them you care, they will follow you
Contractor tip of the month
By Damian Lang
To quote the great Vince Lombardi: “It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and, once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.”
This is absolutely true in sports as well as business. Both sports and business are competitive; demand self-confidence; require team work; and use strategies to achieve success. And, like a sports team, leadership must reveal to their players (or workers, in this case) that the organization has their best interests at heart – that he or she cares about the members of the team, at all levels and at all times.
This quote from Lombardi sits on the desk of Bill, the owner of a successful contracting company. Bill grew his company from scratch over several years. He loved his people, and they expressed their loyalty through their efforts, work habits and the company’s undeniable success. The company was so successful that, one day, Bill could no longer manage operations on his own.
So, Bill decided to seek a general manager (GM) to manage operations for him. After a long search, he found the perfect candidate who we will call John (to protect the innocent, of course.) John was educated, smart, could sell, and had the drive. John was the real deal, the full package.
Bill hired John and announced the change to his people. It was not long after that revenue grew substantially and the company was even more profitable than it had been under Bill’s leadership. However, several months into the first year, things started to change. There was less talking in the hallways, less greetings and smiles from the office staff, and a general uneasy hush about jobsites, and meeting and conference rooms. Bill noticed this, but the financial reports were so fantastic, he didn’t take the time to inspect the situation. Then dramatically, at the one-year point from Johns hiring, the greatest revenue increase from quarter to quarter became the greatest revenue drop, wiping out all the successes from the previous months.
Bill didn’t develop his company to watch it wither away, so he started visiting jobsites to find indicators of the problems.
Bill talked to each of his foremen and superintendents (SI) to get their opinions on the company. The responses were extremely consistent. “I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t trust John,” explained one SI.
“Things aren’t the same as they used to be,” said another. “I’m just a number here, and nothing I do is ever good enough.”
Finally, Bill went to the jobsite of a long-term foreman, Fred, and talked directly about the problems. “The problem is,” Fred explained, “I am working my ass off day in and day out, like always, and all I get every day is that we are not getting enough work done. When you got here, the first thing you asked today was if I was hanging in there alright with the long drive to the jobsite every day from home. I don’t even think John knows where I live.”
It was apparent to Bill that, while John had a handle on the mechanics of the company (things like materials, product knowledge, scheduling and operations), he was lost when it came to handling people. He had no empathy, no devotion, no love, and no interest in the most important asset any company has ever or will ever have – its people.
With a handle on the mistakes, Bill went to John to remedy the situation. Bill liked John. He liked his drive, organizational skills and knowledge. He went into the conversation hoping to take corrective action and point John in the right direction. The conversation, unfortunately, turned out to reveal John’s short comings in two of the most critical leadership qualities: empathy and self-awareness. You might be able to handle one of those problems, but a leader who lacks both is in real trouble. John seemed incapable of putting himself in other people’s positions. He blamed the revenue drop as the poor work habits and lack of intelligence of Bill’s employees. And, when Bill tried to make John understand that he was missing the point, John’s complete lack of self-awareness kept him in a defensive posture throughout the conversation.
Ironically, what started as a face-to-face to get John to correct this lack of leadership skills and improve himself became a resignation.
Several weeks later, Bill held his next interview for the GM position vacated by John. Bill started the meeting by showing the Lombardi quote on his desk. They spoke for an hour about the value of the people in the company, the role they have played in the success, and the need to make leadership a core value of the job. It was an hour before they started talking about operations and scheduling.
When the new GM came to his office on his first day, there was a plaque sitting on his desk that read, “If you show them you care, they will follow you.”
About the Author
Damian Lang is a mason contractor in southeast Ohio and inventor of many labor saving masonry systems and products. Lang has served as the Marketing Committee Chairman for the Mason Contractors Association of America. He is also author of the book Rewarding and Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry. To network with Damian on contractor tips or tips you have and would like published, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-749-3512.