We laid a foundation for leadership last month with this maxim: Be a leader worth following. Now let’s reinforce that with this principle for developing leaders: Investing your time in others is essential for forming leaders your crews will follow.

Having led union and nonunion, and residential and commercial crews, I’ve observed that investing time in others is the single biggest factor for consistently developing quality leaders. But how do we spend our time in developing seasoned leaders?

For starters, leading by example, then partnering with new leaders on the site, and finally, after observing them lead, offering them follow-up advice. We often expect those we are training to be mind-readers. This seems elementary, but many leaders skip the step of communicating their expectations. It’s unfair to the leader-in-training and it’s highly unprofessional on our part when we do not spell out exactly what we are looking for. Clarifying your expectations is like puddling a wall—don’t leave any voids in the flow of your information.

One of the best pieces of advice I received as a young laborer foreman was to quickly admit my mistakes. My boss told me that if I messed up, just let him know right away and we could deal with anything. Don’t hide the mistake; simply get it out in the open so we could fix it ASAP. At the time, we were doing several, four- and five-story buildings with parking garages. Whenever I broke a piece of equipment or mishandled the men under me, as long as I was forthright, I received sound advice and encouragement on how to handle it better the next time.

To successfully instill your vision for doing concrete right, promote from within and take your laborers as far as they can go. Nothing solidifies your crew’s loyalty to you better than coming up through your ranks. When it is time to add a new foreman or field superintendent, you’ve already cultivated someone to fit like a glove with your company’s core values.

Promoting from within ensures your unique culture dominates, which reduces most onsite conflicts. The risk of bringing in outside leadership jeopardizes your organization’s work ethic, methods, and preferences. There’s nothing worse than when the ready-mix truck backs up, and you hear the new guy say, “Back where I’m from, we would add 10 gallons...”

Three qualities

Just like concrete is mainly composed of sand, gravel, and cement, potential leaders display three essential qualities:

1. They are passionate about concrete. They keep their tools clean and drive a clean work truck. If they have time to lean, they clean. Details like crisp joints, flat edges, slick wall-lines, and plumb corners are important to them.

2. They ask questions and they listen. They are problem solvers, not a cause of problems. They are teachable and display common sense.

3. They are not your “yes men,” but you have good chemistry when working together. They are always early and stay late. They show up when they have runny noses, and they don’t gripe about the weather. And most importantly, they have a high tolerance for other people’s pain.

The best companies are led by second or third generation tradesmen who love to teach the next generation everything they know. Purposely investing your time in those who show leadership potential pays the highest dividends. To pass on your hard-earned wisdom, you must invite questions, be present, and be accessible. Your legacy as a leader won’t be your last big project—it will be those who you’ve mentored.

Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who is also a writer and communicator. E-mail craigcottongim@gmail.com.