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[AUDIO] Developing Construction Leaders

In today’s episode of the Senior Class, Brad sits down with Jeff Pigott, our new Leadership Specialist at PDG, to discuss some of the common characteristics of leaders in the construction industry. Enjoy!

 

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[Audio] Changing Me

In today’s post, Brad dives into to keys to changing your role within your organization. Determine today to take more control over what you can do to change those personal “warts,” turning them into real battle strengthening lessons that you can pass on to others someday.  Remember, before changing others…first, “Change Me!”

 

[TRANSCRIPT]

This is without question, the most difficult article I’ve written to date.  Most of my articles are normally directed at helping “others.” The “others” normally represent business owners, leaders and managers, supervisors and foreman, sales people, etc., in hopes of improving their company, work processes, or to inspire leadership efforts.  But to address how to change…ME, that’s an entirely new and different struggle to address.

There are several reasons that may contribute to such a struggle.  See if any of my own reasons fit you.

First, while I think “my way is always right,” I know, deep down in my soul, that I do not always know what is “always right.”

Second, to make a change, personally, requires a bit of introspection, something that requires honesty, transparency, and admission.  While honesty is easy for me to embrace, I know that I’m not always transparent or willing to admit fault. (Yikes!)

A third contributor to my own personal struggles to change “ME” is that it may require confessing that the comments or opinions from others about me, may be correct.  This is difficult for me to confess.  We often hear people invite feedback, “Sure, please tell me if there is anything wrong with how I approach you, communicate with you, treat you, even lead you.”  But deep down, I’m not convinced that we really want to hear such things; especially if they are negative.  I know I struggle with it.

So, here is what I propose in this writing.  Let’s step outside of ourselves for a short period of time and consider our “not so great” character traits and habits.  Such things greatly influence and impact our efforts to engage the human race at large and at the most, for the limited scope of people, at least the humans in our everyday interactions.  Then, we will address how to change ourselves, realizing the importance of connecting with other people even while I may disagree with them.

Therefore, let us consider three rather challenging self-reflecting questions.  Swallow your pride, the following questions are not enjoyable to address, at least they were very difficult for me.  Here we go…

  1. Do I think I’m smarter than everyone…most of the time?

Nothing like starting off with a tough question first, right?  OK, consider when you engage someone else on the phone, through E-mail, or in person, how long is it before you begin to size up the other person for their knowledge, experience, work history, etc.?  It is amazing how often I have done exactly this when meeting people for the first time.  I try to get past the surface element, including their appearance, eye contact, tone of voice, how they position themselves with others in the room, how they answer questions, their level of vocabulary, etc.  This effort isn’t always bad to do, it’s often how we get to know others and to feel comfortable with people.  However, the challenge for me is how often I observe these things to compare what they know, where they have been in life, and how successful they have been, compared to my experiences in life.  Subtly, I size the other person up in my thinking:

  • Are they smarter than me?
  • Will I potentially overwhelm or underwhelm them?
  • How do I want to talk to them in relationship to the purpose for our meeting?
  • What do they know that I do not? What do I know that they do not?

First impressions can be quite hard to overcome.  You have heard the expression, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”  In this instance, a first impression, if not positive, can be tortuous to overcome, making it doubly difficult to overcome and giving the other person a fair shake.

Now, let’s consider our second question.

  1. What sort of feedback have I received…more than once in my life?

If I have been told one time I’ve been told a hundred times, “Brad, you are strong when speaking and often position your comments to ‘dis-invite’ feedback or commentary.”  Now, that may not bother you, but for a career learning, trainer, and speaker, such feedback might suggest how many people did not engage me as they felt less than the most important person in the room and that, just maybe, I sort of thought I was smarter or wiser than they were.

This is a difficult area to address personally for many individuals.  As I’ve spent time coaching many industry and company leaders, the discussion eventually touches on what the individual admits to having heard more than once in their life about their behavior, actions, or tendencies.  Below is a short and simple list of observations that have been made about some of the people whom I’ve coached over the years.  For those individuals who were guilty of the observations, they admitted to having heard it many times during their work career.  Some even admitted to me that their spouse or other closely related friends have shared the same observations.

  • Think they are smarter than just about everyone they interact
  • Interrupts others to over-emphasize their knowledge or opinion
  • Always has the last word in any conversation; they simply cannot listen to someone’s comments and NOT respond
  • Will not share ideas or thoughts when asked…only will circle back around later when any impact is lost
  • Can appear to agree with a decision or comment and then later speak against it to others, circumventing the source
  • Will not be flexible in discussions; holds to a very strict line and rarely changes or adapts to ideas/recommendations made by others
  • Makes great use of financial or procedural data to defend their position regardless of the negative impact on people
  • Does not share openly and honestly when the need is present
  • May not share all that they know when full exposure is needed
  • Very common to roll their eyes or look away when disagreeing with someone in full view of others
  • Regularly provides late information and data, causing others to work longer hours or to constantly pursue requesting the needed information
  • Always comments that they are further along on completing tasks and projects than they really are
  • Will not look make eye contact when listening
  • Will not look at people while talking to others

Now, in some cases, practicing one or more of the examples just provided might be acceptable.  However, when someone is having less than positive and proactive interactions, some of the items listed can be symptoms of deeper issues of resistance including fear or lack of confidence.

Here is a question we must ask ourselves:

If I’ve been accused of some negative trait or action, several times, and from different parties, then do I have an area that I need to change?”

If I refuse to accept and work to correct the challenging trait or behavior, the item in focus may keep me from developing into all that I can be, limiting even my future success.

Now, let’s address the third question.  Ready yourselves, this cuts much closer to the soul of our existence as humans.

  1. Do I hold some bias against others?

This is a tough one for me, because I do have a problem about “writing others off,” if they hold a position or belief greatly different than my own.  I remember telling my kids occasionally while they were growing up, “There are ‘idiots’ and then there’s us.  Don’t be an ‘idiot’.”  Now, not only was that an unwise comment to have shared with my kids, even if only to bring some levity to a difficult situation one of their friends may have found themselves, it reflects a lack of patience, understanding, and empathy.

However, even today, when I see what I view as simple ignorance in someone else’s’ action, or some ridiculous decision made by a company, that old voice speaks to me and whispers, “What an idiot.”  Thankfully I don’t voice this sentiment…very often.

This doesn’t suggest that we should accept mediocrity or stupidity in serious personal or business situations, but we must be faster to keep our outward expression from making such comments.  This does separate us from others, especially from those who may be doing their best to work through a difficult situation.

Still worse, this attitude more often masks some subtle bias in my heart.  Did I think, or comment, on someone’s stupidity due to their age, race, sex, national origin, etc., even their education specialty?  I may not have had any of these areas in mind, but the very expression or thought can signal something deeper in me that I’m not aware of about myself.  Let me share a personal example.  Trust me, this isn’t easy to do.

Over the years, I have worked with a great many people who are highly educated, especially in the field of engineering, and even more specifically, to construction engineering.  Yet, on occasion, I have witnessed someone with this pedigree, making a decision that was just ridiculous, almost asinine.

At times, I have approached them with the attitude that projected, “Are you just dumber than a bag of rocks?”  And in a few cases, I’ve actually said this to the individual.  So, what’s the problem you might ask?  Don’t some people need to be told when they have really screwed up?  Let me explain a possible reason, one that may display a bit of personal bias against engineers on my part (that I didn’t even realize).

Engineers, educated engineers, are some of our finest trained thinkers and decision makers, no doubt.  However, it is because of that expectation that I have often held such people to a higher standard.  (This is unfair to the engineer and totally unfair for me to do so.)  The standard is quite high, approaching perfection.  So, when one of these individuals make, what I think, is a stupid decision, I must confess that there is some small feeling of, “I thought so; they’re just not that smart.”

Unfortunately, this has happened several times over the years and it represents a little insight into who I am, deep down, and what I may have been envious about.  You see, my educational background is Psychology, not Engineering.  There is just a bit of envy in me because I do not have the formal engineering training (I.e. My limited engineering knowledge is due to a career of living and experiencing engineering processes and techniques.), that others have paid the price to acquire, I may be just a little envious against such people, thinking they should know better.  I guess you could say that I have, “Engineering Envy.”  It may sound ridiculous but it’s real for me…and it something that I have worked hard to correct through the years.

The three questions and discussions just addressed may not explain everything for you.  However, if you look deep enough, you’ll find that one or more of the areas probably have some impact on how you operate in life and may point to what you need to change.

Let’s turn our attention now to the change process, or more accurate: the “Change ME” process.  The process steps presented are not difficult to read and understand, but can be quite challenging to integrate into our lives.

The Change-ME Process

Step #1 – Making a “When I’m All Alone” Confession

No one can do this!  You and I must be totally honest with ourselves and confess, “It’s not about me!”

The resistance to “Change-ME” is great until we step off the podium of self-importance and to sincerely confess that this world is not supposed to be making every effort to serve, support, or even like me.  Until you and I come to grips with the statement, “It’s not about me,” we will continue to justify our behavior and continuing to expect others to see us as “God’s gift to the world,” or at least to them.

Step #2 – Record the Behavior, Act, or Thought Needing Changed

OK, if I first confess that I’m not the “Savior” of the world, I next need to move to recognizing, even “owning,” the actions that contribute to negative relationships, disagreements, and ultimately poor results.

This isn’t as easy as it may first read.  The secret here is to not move to wide in your self-assessment.  Stay more narrowly focused on what you have had brought to your attention with greater frequency.  For instance, if you have been told that you are a poor listener, interrupting others before they complete a statement, focus on poor listening.  You may occasionally share incorrect information or share a poorly timed joke, but if you have received multiple feedback as to your listening challenges, claim it and prepare to address it.

A side note here to calling out the behavior, act, or thought that is a challenge for you.  It can be quite a relief initially to confess, specifically, what you are struggling with in your personal life.  I know it was quite “healing” for me when I finally confronted my attitude and phrasing of addressing those wonderful engineers when they made a mistake.  Hard to process…but it was sort of cathartic to write down what it was that I had to address and change.

Step #3 – Find an Accountability Partner

Upon full confession, and recording the challenge, you need to find someone who “loves you but who is not in love with you.”  You might be surprised that this person, in most cases, should not be your spouse or significant other, perhaps not even a sibling or your best friend.  The goal here is to select someone who will be tough on you when needed, not leading you to believe that you’re making progress when you are not.

Upon finding and securing your accountability partner, have an initial meeting with them and give them your permission to “Hit you with their best shot.”  This person doesn’t have to be a clinical psychologist, but they need to be able to listen to you, your experience, your attempts to change, and call you out if you are not doing what you say you will do.  They should also be invested in you, sharing approaches, role-playing occasionally, even providing ideas for actual words or phrases to use, all in the hope of assisting you in your change.  For those of us in the business world, a professional coach might be that person, although they will need to get to know you.

Step #4 – Map Out Why the Needed Change is a Challenge

Like my situation, I have found that there needs to be some back-up and assessment to why the repeated behavior, act, or thought exist. I’m not necessarily thinking about determining whether you were treated poorly as a child, you must be honest about what may be at the root of your challenge.

Short of playing amateur psychologist, the objective here is simply to recognize if there is anything in one’s work history or life’s experiences that is contributing to the challenges.  The Japanese, in their quest to solve work process problems, have a problem-solving tool called, “The 5 Whys.”  I’ve used it with organizations I consult with and find it helpful for our purpose here.

The real treasure of “The 5 Whys” is that it forces a team, or individual, to repeat asking Why in order to get to a root cause for the dysfunction or error.  While I’ve not always asked “Why” five times to uncover a root cause, just the discipline of asking “Why” can help me move closer to the real issue.

Again, in my own personal example shared earlier, after I asked myself “Why” a few times, like about three times, I discovered that I was envious of those who had that formal engineering background.  I quietly resented the fact that I had spent my adult life working extra hard to learn how to build buildings, how to pour and finish concrete, or how to schedule a project.  This effort caused me to spend extra hours, on my own time, to learn the processes so critical to who I was now providing consulting services.  And as a result, I did harbor some minor, but felt, emotions and opinions about the college educated engineer who, at times, made decisions that looked like they had flunked Common Sense 101.  You get the point on how nonsensical I had allowed this weakness to be in my approach in working with those who had the engineering credentials.

No matter what approach you, and your “AP,” Accountability Partner, follow, it is important to seek out the root cause for your challenged area.  Without a good effort to determine the root cause, you may continue placing band aids on your efforts, showing short-term improvement only to have that returning challenge hitting you right on the nose!

 Step #5 – Develop an Action Plan that Corrects the Challenge

OK, at this point you must put your actions where you challenge is if you are to change your behavior, actions, or thoughts.  This is where the emotional and physical “rubber meets the road.”

It will help your efforts in this fifth step if you will consider the real-life situations where your challenged area has demonstrated its negative side.  Using that situation as your backdrop, write down the needed steps that you will need to follow when you face the next opportunity.  Let me share my example of the action plan that I recorded and used.

  1. Change my commentary to asking questions.
  2. Focus on the learning the other person can offer me.
  3. Increase my use of statements/questions such as, “Thank you for that insight,” or “Thanks for helping see that; I wasn’t aware of that issue,” or finally, “Is this what I’m hearing you say?”
  4. Take more written notes on engineer speaking.
  5. Follow-up engineer’s statements or presentation with questions that reflect understanding and desire to know more.
  6. When I differ, ask the engineer if I can share a few other ideas not mentioned.
  7. Keep in mind…I’m working to bring out the best in the engineer; not challenge their background.
  8. Listen first…speak second…swallow and breath…patience always.
  9. Relax and let the conversation come to me.
  10. If questions arise that cannot be addressed comfortably and confidently, suggest we follow-up later.

The ten steps I recorded for my interaction felt mechanical when first practiced.  I must admit however, after some twenty-years of practice, the ten steps are almost part of my DNA in my interaction efforts with many bright and terrific engineers whom I spend a great deal of my time now coaching, training, and encouraging.

Developing your personal action plan will not be easy, if you approach the task with a sincere desire to “Change-ME.”  That’s why so many professionals fail when it comes to changing their approach to problems, problem people, and just tough situations overall that bring out the worst in them.  It’s hard work that gets put off, kicked down the road, or just avoided altogether.  Thus, later in their career, these same individuals get to work with professional coaches like me, who then must assist them in putting their best effort forward again after many have grown frustrated in working with the individual.

Step #6 – Follow-Up on Changes Made; Inquire about Improvement

This sixth step may be as difficult to do, perhaps more so, than Step #5.  Why?  Because at some point you must determine if the changes you have sought to make are having the positive and corrective impact initially designed to have.  Going to those whom you have had some challenges with, and asking them to give you some feedback on your efforts to change, is just not one of the easier things to do.  And that’s if the “others” will want to talk to you.

Your AP, as much as they have provided you with wise counsel and assistance, cannot fully provide the feedback needed to confirm your change efforts.  So, you must find some ways to go to those whom you have had challenges.  Let me provide perhaps a few suggestions.

  1. Depending on your relationship with the “other” individual, go straight to them and ask them if they have observed any change in you, your communication, approach to them or others, etc. You might be surprised to hear them give you some much needed feedback and hopefully, encouragement.
  2. Take note of how the other people are responding or approaching you. Do they appear to be more relaxed when coming to you? Are they more interactive when discussing issues versus making short brief statements and leave your presence ASAP?  Is that one person coming to you first to initiate questions, follow-up, or providing an offer of support?  These could be signs that your change efforts are making an impact.
  3. If you participate in receiving a Performance Evaluation, include your desire to change and to ask your senior leader to provide any insight or commentary to what they have observed. I would even go so far as to ask your leader if they can give some feedback based on what they have heard about you. Be sure to guarantee that you do not want to know names of people but that you are just focused on if your change effort is having a positive impact.
  4. Finally, go to the same individuals whom you may have had the challenges with and ask them if they might have some recommendations for your improvement. Demonstrate that you really are interested by having pad and pen available and positioned to write down what they share. I’ve seen this approach work several times over the years with some of the leaders who I coached.  Many times, the other individual will casually respond that they have seen some real improvement on your part.  If this happens to you, be nice and accept their nice comments but encourage them that you do want to continue improving in whatever challenged area you have experienced.

Changing ME is one of the most difficult exercises for most of us.  While we say that we want to be the best that we can be, few of us are willing to do the heavy lifting to grow in our professionalism.  Yet, for those of us who are willing to risk the awkwardness of changing one’s behavior and thoughts, most of us will find that others are often only too happy to assist.

It takes a step of faith in anything that we do when we do not control the outcome.  Certainly, my own example shared in this article qualifies for that aspect.  But do not let the awkwardness of the improving effort prevent you from taking the necessary steps to change that negative behavior, act, or thought.  It really is worth it in the end.

One final bit of insight that may assist you.  You will never quite eliminate a challenging behavior, act, or thought, not completely.  There will always be a faint reminder that you will need to continue to push aside, not letting an old and irritating habit return.

So, to assist in your “self-maintenance” remember to consider how difficult past negative actions may have been on relationships and results.  When you feel any hint of the “old-self” coming on, redirect your attention to gain a little time to collect yourself, reassess what you know to be the right thing to do, and then proceed.  Trust me, others will benefit from your efforts though many more will never realize the why behind your efforts.

Don’t give up on yourself.  You have made it this far in your career, so others recognize the potential you possess.  Determine today to take more control over what you can do to change those personal “warts,” turning them into real battle strengthening lessons that you can pass on to others someday.  Remember, before changing others…first, “Change Me!”

Brad Humphrey

Leadership Coach, Author, and Conference/Keynote Speaker, Brad works with leaders about the globe to grow more professional fortitude in their journey to greatness.  Founder and President of Pinnacle Development Group, Brad has been assisting companies for more than twenty-eight years.  If you are interested in more information about Brad, or his company, please go to www.pinnacledg.com or call 682.500.2669.

Exceptional at the Ordinary Things

There is little fanfare given to the leader or worker who goes about their job every day, performing work in a disciplined and consistent manner.  The attention often goes to the individual who pulls off some miraculous effort to save a project from disaster.

What is interesting however is that for the leader and worker who daily, practices consistent discipline to insure they have the tools they need, and make sure their work efforts are methodically followed, their results are consistently better.  This is what I have come to call, being “exceptional at the ordinary things.”

There is little doubt that “ordinary things” do not possess much excitement.  I mean, how can some of the following items be considered anything but ordinary?

  • Making sure the equipment and vehicles are gassed up, lubed and oiled, and properly loaded and unloaded.
  • Taking the time to see that all plans, pictures, and specifications are in the job file.
  • Double or triple checking prints for accuracy.
  • Looking to see that all working areas are safe and pose no threat to workers due to power or gas lines in the area.
  • Regularly having the crew picking up after themselves to insure the site is clean.
  • All project tools and equipment are accounted for daily and returned to their respective storage areas.
  • Preparing for each new day, conducting morning “huddles” with the workers to be sure that they know their roles and the scope of work for the day.

Such tasks do not require a “Hail Mary” pass effort, but instead, a daily consistency to perform the same procedural things that are required to achieve the needed quality, safety, and to meet critical schedules.

If more contractors over-emphasized being exceptional about performing the ordinary things, more companies would reap the benefits.  I mean, consider briefly a few benefits to those who are exceptional at the ordinary things.  Can you imagine:

  • Less risk to workplace injuries?
  • Better house-keeping of job-sites?
  • Equipment that last longer due to consistent PM?
  • Jobs that start on time?
  • Less tool replacement costs?
  • Customers are bragging on your worker’s efficiency, quality, and clean job-site?
  • Projects that make the estimated profit?
  • Greater peace of mind for you?

So, if there are so many benefits to be realized by having all our workers being exceptional at the ordinary things, how can we influence or encourage this experience?

Let’s look at a few efforts that leaders and owners can make to influence their employees to be exceptional at the ordinary things.

  1. Formally Create and Document the Ordinary Things

Whether it is creating a “pre-start” list of tools, equipment, building components, etc. needed for the day or providing crews with an inventory management sheet to keep better track of what they are to bring back to the yard or tool crib, you will need to document the expected procedures to follow.

  1. Compliment Individuals When They Practice the Basics

Remember, “praise what you want practiced.”  When employees receive recognition for doing the basics, they will be more likely to maintain the effort.  No different than a professional athlete who methodically prepares for their daily workouts, being consistent on the little things allow the bigger things to be more easily completed.

  1. Make it Your Norm to Remind Workers About Consistently Following Every Process or Procedure

Contractors will grow frustrated if they assume their workers are all doing the “little” things each day to bring about the best results.  Reminding workers helps to keep them focused on following process steps.  Being disciplined in the “ordinary” things will make it easier to take on the extraordinary things with more confidence and preparedness.

  1. Review Problem Jobs with Leaders and Workers to Determine What Isn’t Consistently Followed

Finding inconsistencies in following procedures or processes is almost always the reason behind poor work results.  Reviewing jobs that had higher than expected costs should always be looked at to determine the cause of the increased cost and what was or was not followed.  Inevitably the reasons come back to confirm that one or more things were not performed as required.

  1. Conduct a “Spring Training” One to Two Times Each Year

If the professional sports teams can require their coaches and players to prepare for the season, is it any less important for our own people to have their own form of “Spring Training”?  Use such times to re-educate work efforts, include hands-on learning, and challenge workers to strengthen the “ordinary” tasks and how they are to be completed.

  1. Prepare to Discipline Those Who Fail to Practice the Basics

This can be challenging for the contractor that has lost control of workers embracing the need to perform well on the ordinary things.  However, when workers, and leaders, are disciplined for failing to perform important basic but needed tasks, then the message begins to be understood that doing the little things really do matter.  Failure to do so could cost one their job!

Just think what your performance could be if all involved would spend just as much energy and focus on performing the ordinary things?  Consider how much lower your equipment costs could be or much cleaner or safer your job sites might be if each worker made an exceptional effort to complete the small and ordinary tasks.

One final observation about this topic.  Being exceptional at ordinary things reflects the degree of pride within the employee.  It is easy to get excited about a new project working for a high-profile customer but not about a small project within our own company.  But both project types benefit from workers who are focused, consistent, and attentive. 

To perform every project with such proactive and positive effort is reflective of people who take pride in their work, their preparation, and their reputation.  This is what most contractors need to direct their time and attention to, the raising of the ordinary things as needing and benefiting from exceptional work efforts.

Brad Humphrey

The Contractor’s Best Friend