If you can’t lead well, you won’t be able transform your followers into leaders. Organizations rise and fall on leadership. Leaders take seriously their obligation to develop leaders. And to train the next generation of leaders, you have to know what an authentic leader is: A leader is someone people willingly follow.
I came into concrete in the days when tyrants were viewed as the best leaders. Men who could strike the fear of God into you with just a look! Men, who when you got to the site at 6:00 a.m., were already working. And when you left at twilight, they were pouring over the next day’s blueprints by the glow of a Lucky Strike. Men who passed back and forth all day long, scowling. They knew how to bark orders and could cuss their crew like a mule-skinner. Men who ruled regularly with threats of anger.
Most companies back then (and some today) would say this legendary style of leadership is the only way to go. Why? Because apparently the ironhanded leader produces results. Slave-drivers who order concrete too soon -- having the first truck pull up before the last form is buttoned up, or who push the men to scrub the wall-line till the pinky-knuckles on every finisher is raw. These are “true” leaders in the minds of many and their mantra is, “Waterbreaks are for weaklings and you can eat when you get home...”
That’s not leading. That’s driving. Anyone with leverage can force their people down a path they don’t like. Leading, on the other hand, is actually getting people to willingly submit to your leadership. When your people want to follow you, then you are a leader.
To lead well, competency in your field is important, but you don’t have to know how to do every task on the jobsite. You might not know how to run a riding trowel, operate a crane, the boom-pump, or dig very well on a trackhoe, but to lead well, you do need to know how to get people to follow you.
I remember the impression made on me, when I had just turned 20. I was laboring for a large industrial concrete company and our foreman used to come over and grade gravel with us every afternoon as we prepared the next day’s pour. As we formed up diamonds, he was right there with a hammer in his hand. He taught us lowly laborers how to drive stakes with a maul and how to bullfloat, edge, and trowel concrete.
Was he firm? Hell yes. Did he earn our respect, 110% yes! How? He never asked us to do anything he wouldn’t do. Plus, he didn’t feel threatened whenever his men were improving. He wanted his crew to be the best at whatever they did. He knew his real fruit grew best on other people’s trees. There wasn’t anything we wouldn't do for him.
If you can’t sustain morale, take the best care of the men entrusted to your care, and bring your crew along in personal development, you aren’t a leader worth following. You might be able to twist a few arms, but you’ll never win over your crew until you humbly roll up your sleeves and model a work ethic that your men are in awe of. Once you get that down, you’ll have something worth passing on.