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Building Blocks of Leadership

by Ken Bradford

Since 1992, thousands of people have participated in The Leaders Course® and shared their insights into the principles that make an effective leader. I believe their experiences offer ten useful lessons for leaders of today's construction organizations.

Frankly, if leadership was easy, everyone would do it. It takes hard work, regular practice and a willingness to challenge yourself to become a powerful leader. But it can be learned.

So what's the secret to building yourself as a leader? And how do you build a culture of teamwork and professionalism when the notion of loyalty -from either employees or employers-seems quaint and out-of-date in today's business world? Perhaps in two words: communications and relationships.

These are simple yet profoundly difficult goals. To truly improve communication and build relationships, you'll have to spend less time benchmarking best practices and more time building an organization, department or work force that can communicate openly and that values each other's needs.

It also means cultivating a mentality of giving and serving versus controlling and dictating, because the best leader is the best server. And if you're a servant, by definition you're not controlling. The only way to do that effectively is to work from a philosophical basis or ingrained set of guiding principles.

1. Language will always be your most powerful tool. Without the ability to skillfully communicate one-on-one and to a group, you will fail to have an impact on your audience-even if you have all the other skills you need.

2. Self-confidence tempered with modesty. Sure, you need a healthy ego to lead - but you also need to be wise enough to check it at the parking lot. Being a leader is not about making yourself more powerful. It's about making the people around you more powerful.

3. Listening. Leaders are listeners. They grow antennae, not horns. Listening well shows respect and builds cooperation. As an effective leader, you approach every issue from a learning perspective. You go to meetings not to issue orders or instructions; you go to learn about the problems people are having and to see if you can help.

4. Encouragement. Leaders recognize the assets and potential of others and take an active role in influencing them to do their best. They know that when people feel sincerely valued they have a greater sense of responsibility, display more commitment to achieving organizational goals, and are more productive. Continuous encouragement of others builds courage, resilience and stamina throughout the organization.

5. Emotional maturity. Great leaders have different personalities. Some are analytical strategists, while others like to roar from rooftops. But they all share a great sense of timing in understanding when to introduce initiatives and how to react to challenging people and situations. They can suspend judgment and think before reacting. How? Through self-awareness, which gives them insight into understanding what kind of effect their moods have on others. They also avoid making flippant remarks that feel good at the moment but create personality conflicts later.

6. Value relationships. Leaders understand that relationships are central to the process. They are interested in attacking the problem, not the person. Leaders don't pick public forums to directly confront or argue with others or attempt to make someone wrong. They ask revealing questions. They inquire rather than enforce.

7. Trust. Leaders build trust. If you take an ongoing genuine interest in the well-being of your people, both personally and professionally, you will eventually create trust. But remember that trust, once broken, is seldom restored. It is the most fragile yet essential attribute of leadership.

8. Shared glory. You must do more than manage the project. Leaders also coach. Your job is to turn players into star performers. Along the way, you may have to shoulder more than your share of blame and take less than your share of the credit, but ultimately when your team wins the game, you'll share in their glory.

9. Respect. Leaders treat everyone with respect regardless of their position. Your voice tone, daily countenance and willingness to listen and include others demonstrates your level of respect. Respecting others raises your "like-ability factor" ten-fold. We prefer to do business with people we like and go the extra mile for a leader who is known for treating everyone fairly.

10. Learning. Powerful leaders commit themselves to continuous learning for the long haul. If you want to build your leadership skills, remember that remaining bound to a fixed skill level is not an option. Instead of making excuses or blaming others, leaders seize every opportunity to expand their skills and learn new ways of handling problems.

These ten durable principles have little to do with a set of construction plans, material cost, or codes, but they have everything to do with human relationships and your obligation as a leader to individual team members and to your customers. They underlie the essence of powerful leaders.

Ken Bradford is the founder and instructor of The Leaders Course® in effective speaking and human relations.


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