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 other leaders. And to train the next generation of leaders, you have to know what an authentic leader is: someone people willingly follow.

I started in the concrete industry back when tyrants were viewed as the best leaders. These were men who could strike the fear of God into you with just a look. These were men who, when you got to the jobsite at 6 a.m., were already working. And when you left at twilight, they were poring over the next day’s blueprints by the glow of a Lucky Strike. They passed back and forth all day long scowling. They knew how to bark orders and could cuss out their crew like a mule-skinner. They 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 iron-handed leader produces results. These slave-drivers might order concrete too soon, having the first truck pull up before the last form is buttoned up. Or they might push the men to scrub the wall-line until the pinky-knuckles on every finisher are raw. Their mantra is, “Water breaks are for weaklings and you can eat when you get home.”

But that’s not leading; that’s driving. Anyone with leverage can force 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.

Get people to follow you

To lead effectively, 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 troweling machine, operate a crane or 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.

When I had just turned 20 and was laboring for a large industrial concrete company, our foreman would grade gravel with us every afternoon as we prepared for 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.

He was firm while earning our respect 110%. How did he do it? He never asked us to do anything he wouldn’t do. He also didn’t feel threatened as his men improved. He wanted his crew members 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 you, and bring your crew along in personal development, then 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 present a work ethic that your men are in awe of. Once you get that down, you’ll have something worth passing on.

Next month I will write about how to actually develop the leaders under you. Until then, e-mail me your thoughts on leadership challenges.

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