Just last week, the crew I’m on lost two guys. Well, we didn’t really lose them. They were fired. Neither was really great at concrete, but the contractor I’m working for dragged his feet when it came to letting them go because he is frustrated trying to find help.
This situation isn’t unique to the place I work. I’m continuously hearing from concrete contractors all over the country about how difficult recruiting and retaining qualified workers has become.
Here’s a good analogy for this two-fold problem: Sometimes leadership can be like looking out the rear window of a skidsteer. It’s extremely hard to look through the grime and we don’t have necks like an owl. Whether you are operating equipment or driving a ready-mix truck, our most difficult task is navigating the blind spots. If you are having trouble recruiting and retaining good workers, it could be that these two major leadership blind spots are hindering your organization too.
Blind Spot #1: Effective change starts at the top.
Here’s a leadership principle worth remembering: Followers rarely outperform their leaders. The ironic part is, leaders often expect changes from those they lead that the leader is not aware he or she needs to make as well. In teaching leadership seminars, I’ve noticed key leaders often have high expectations for those working under them, while some of these same leaders neglect to see where they might need to improve themselves. If the boss isn’t personally growing, his followers will stagnate as well.
Blind Spot #2: We all make mistakes.
Many leaders misunderstand what happens when he admits having made a mistake. Too many leaders think voicing their faults is a sign of weakness, but being wrong is not a weakness. Whether it’s confessing you ordered concrete too soon, set the wrong grade, didn’t set up the pump in the proper location, or you were short-handed on your crew, getting leaders to fess up to their mistakes is like trying to nail Jello to a wall.
The reality is, when you man-up and take responsibility for your mistakes, your followers will respect you more. They already know you blew it (and they are talking about it), but when you share with them how you learned from your mistakes, your crews will appreciate your leadership more.
Here’s the root of our leadership problem in concrete. Insecure leaders fall into the pit of protecting themselves. But self-preservation is a form of self-sabotage. If you are more concerned about yourself than you are about your followers, you aren’t truly leading. As former GE CEO Jack Welch has said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
It’s harder to lead others when we personally struggle with being led. When we lead from the stance of infallibility, we grow the wrong type of reputation and we will struggle with recruiting or retaining good help. The best leaders are those who can hear feedback and make personal adjustments without becoming too defensive. Expressing appreciation for a job well done, accepting criticism, and admitting mistakes are examples worth following.
Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who is also a writer and communicator. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.