This is Eric Anderton, and you're listening to “Construction Genius”, a leadership masterclass. Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. If you're a construction leader, you know all about the perspiration, and this show is all about the one percent inspiration that you can add to your hard work to help you to improve your leadership.
Eric: Welcome to Construction Genius. My name is Eric Anderton. Soccer season is back in my part of the world and that means a little bit of coaching, and I am not an expert soccer coach by any means, but I’ve had fun over the years, working with my kids in their rec soccer teams, and so this year I am coaching my 7-year-old.
I was working with my 7-year-old and 12-year-old on some pretty simple dribbling drills, and the 12-year-old has been doing it for a while and he confidently zipped through the drills with a smile on his face. The 7-year-old, not so much, he was struggling, hadn't had as much practice. He had what we call the sad trombone look on his face. Definitely, a lack of confidence. [01:10.4]
The same may be true for the people that report to you in your construction company. They can have a lack of confidence. It can be seen in their performance. It can be seen in them interrupting you quite a bit in your day-to-day settings. It could also be seen in them withdrawing from you, and so that's what I want to talk about today, how to handle a lack of confidence in your direct reports, or perhaps, more positively, how to build confidence in your direct reports.
We're going to look at three things here. First one is, what is confidence? The second one is, why is it important? Then the last one is how to build that confidence in your direct reports, and we're going to be spending most of our time diving into that particular practical step-by-step process of building confidence in your direct reports. [02:00.0]
What is confidence? For the purpose of our discussion here today for what I'm sharing, confidence is simply belief in the effectiveness of your own abilities, and that's very important in construction. It’s that belief that I am able to translate into effective action, my abilities, my knowledge, my skill, whether it's technical skill, whether it's relational skill, and in construction, those two things work together in a very coordinated fashion in the folks that perform at the highest level. You've got to have technical skill. You've got to have relational skill as well. That's a very simple definition, but a good working definition for confidence. Once again, belief in the effectiveness of one's own abilities. Good question to ask yourself is, are you confident?
Let me tell the difference between confidence and cockiness. Confidence is the belief in the effectiveness of one's own abilities based on track record, on actually doing stuff, having built projects, having won work, having built a team, having built a company. You've done it, and so, therefore, you're confident. [03:07.8]
Cockiness is believing that you can do it, but not actually having done it, or not having done it well or consistently over a period of time. You might run across some people sometimes where they have a successful project, one successful project, and it kind of puffs them up a little bit, but we know that in construction, you're always being evaluated on your last project. Not last year's project, but this project, today's project. That's how you're being evaluated.
Again, confidence is a belief in the effectiveness of what you actually do. Cockiness is something that is derived from thinking you have that ability, but not necessarily showing that you have it consistently over time or perhaps overestimating your abilities. [03:56.2]
All right, now, why is confidence important? I think the number one reason why confidence is important is because it impacts your ability to communicate and work with three groups of people. Number one, your customers, whether that customer is a general contractor, whether it's the end user, whether it's an owner. If you are confident, then it will impact the way you communicate with your customers.
Let me give you an example. Let's say you are confident in your grasp of the specifications of a project and the commitments that you've made contractually, and you've got that dialed in. Then the GC or the owner calls you on that, so to speak. You're able to step into that meeting with your ducks in a row, with your messaging dialed in, ready to handle any of the issues that might come up. So, confidence is important because it affects the way you interact with your customers.
It's also important because it affects the way you interact with project partners or suppliers. Again, if you've got your stuff dialed in, if you know how to overcome the challenges that are presented because you've done it before, then that will impact the way you interact with the project partners and with the suppliers. You'll be able to represent the best interest of your organization, without, hopefully, compromising the relationships that are key with those individuals. [05:19.5]
Then, finally, confidence and the impact of it affecting your ability to communicate with people. It impacts your internal teams, both your peers, your direct reports, and the people that you report to. I see this all the time with people who are just starting out in construction. There's, generally speaking, two types of people that kind of show up. You've got your cowboys, those kind of the confident ones or the cocky ones rather who are not necessarily wanting input, and then you've got your babies and your babies are the ones who always sucking their thumbs. They're interrupting you. They need to be spoon-fed.
I'd say this, there's a time to be a baby in construction, so to speak, but you want to get out of that baby stage as quickly as possible. We're not going to have someone in diapers for two or three or four years, right? We want to get out of the diapers as quickly as possible and on our feet, walking, talking, and contributing. [06:08.0]
That's the problem with a lack of confidence. It creates dependency, which is based on fear, always asking questions, never quite sure of yourself, looking to your manager for a smile or a nod or assurance. That all comes from insecurity, so to speak, or fear, but it also creates distance in some, which is rooted in pride. What I’ve found over the years is pride is also another form of fear, and you know when someone is proud when they're not willing to admit mistakes or they're not willing to ask questions, and they just kind of hope to grind through and figure stuff out. You like the fact that they maybe want to try and figure it out, but at the end of the day or at a certain point in time, they're not figuring it out and they need to stop and ask questions and not be distant.
Okay, so we've defined what confidence is, belief in the effectiveness of your own abilities. We've talked about why confidence is important, because it affects your ability to communicate and work with customers, project partners, and internal teams. Now let's talk about how to build confidence in your direct reports, and notice the way that I'm setting this up here. [07:10.5]
If you're a leader in a construction company, it's vital that you understand your responsibility. Your responsibility fundamentally is not to build projects. It is to build people so that they can build projects. Let's go back to my definition of confidence. I keep repeating it just because it's important. It's belief in the effectiveness of your abilities.
Think again about my 12-year-old. He's confident going through the cones because he is competent. My 7-year-old lacks competence, and, therefore, he is less confident. This is fundamental. It's very simple, but it's important. If I am competent, I become more confident. The way you build confidence in your direct reports is by building their competence. [07:58.8]
Now that may seem obvious, but the question that you should ask yourself is, how should I do that? How should I build competence in my direct reports so that they become more confident? Let me give you some suggestions. This is going to be very, very important. You're in the middle of your week. Let's say it's a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Let's say it's a Wednesday, right? Monday, things are kind of kicking off. Tuesday, they get into a full flow. Wednesday, you probably don't have a project meeting on a Wednesday, right? Let's say your project manager or your project engineer, they're out there and they're supposed to be dealing with issues, interacting with clients, talking to the foreman. The super is making sure things are moving along as they should.
They come across an obstacle, and what's their first instinct? It may be to immediately pick up their phone, give you a call, send you a text, something like that, or walk into your office—because you're an open-door policy guy or gal, aren't you?—walk into your office, interrupt you in the middle of something very important for you, and ask a question. [08:57.2]
When someone comes to you for advice, you want to build their competence, and so what I'm about to say is a little counterintuitive, but what you should do is simply ask them, “What would you do in this situation?” Refrain from giving them immediate advice and solving their problem. Even if you could do it very quickly, ask them what would you do?
Then when they present a solution—and maybe they present it right then in front of you or they have to go away and then think of a solution and come back—when they present that solution, consider what they present and ask yourself, “Is it within the realm of acceptability?” It may not be “exactly what I would do,” but if it's good enough, then allow them to make that call, make that decision. If they come up with something that is completely off-base that's going to screw things up, that's going to damage your relationship with your clients or your project partners, then, of course, you direct them, but allow them to do the critical thinking. [09:58.2]
This is one practical way that you build their competence. It's only by repetition, just like my 7-year-old is only going to get good at dribbling through cones with a soccer ball by doing it repeatedly. So, too, your junior people who report to you are only going to get good at their role, they're only going to get confident in their role, by building their competency through repetition.
Second thing you can do is catch them doing things well. Use a bit of positive reinforcement. If I see someone doing something well, let's say you are on an email chain and the project manager is dealing with a change order pricing or explaining something in an email to an owner or a GC, and you see them doing something well. Catch them doing it well and ping them with a “well done” email and a why behind it.
Let me tell you why this is important, and we're going to get to later on you setting up regular meetings with them, and if you're not doing this already, you need to do that, by the way. But for them, as a junior person, as someone perhaps growing in a role, growing in their confidence, growing in their competency, when they meet with you face to face, whether it be on a daily check-in basis or a weekly meeting, it's kind of like an oasis for them, right? [11:09.7]
It's an oasis, because they're in the presence of someone, hopefully, that they respect, someone that has more experience in them, someone that can give them guidance, and while they're in your presence, they may even feel that confidence of being around you. It's like think about when you go to a job-site visit, for instance, and they're riding shotgun with you and maybe they walk onto the job site where they're head held just a little bit higher as you go to talk to the owner or the project manager from the other company, or the superintendent or the foreman, because, merely, they're in your presence. You know what I mean?
When they're meeting with you, it's like an oasis for them, and then when they come out of your presence and back to their job, there's a bit of a desert, and that positive reinforcement that you can send them with a simple ping, whether it be an email or a text or something like that, it bridges the gaps between those times of oasis of meetings and gives them that extra boost of confidence as they're going through their week. It's a little fuel for them. [12:04.2]
Then the last thing you want to do is have those consistent weekly meetings, and, again, what you're looking to do here is you're looking to build their competence, which will then lead to their confidence. As you are asking them to do the critical thinking, as you are giving them positive reinforcement, it is building their belief in the effectiveness of their abilities, because they're actually seeing their abilities have a positive impact.
Now let's take a look at that weekly-meeting framework, and I'm going to give you a break here. Let's say you have six to eight people reporting to you and maybe you're saying, “Eric, there's just no way I can meet with them every single week.” I'm going to say, dude, maybe you need to look at your calendar a little bit and strongly consider calendar management and blocking out time to meet with everyone.
But I'm going to give you a break and, let's say, you can only do it every other week, fair enough. But during that meeting, this is what you want to do, and, again, we're talking about the idea of building competence and confidence, so this is just part of your meeting. [13:00.2]
What I'd like you to do is to identify one item that exhibits good decision-making, for them. Between the last meeting you had and this meeting, identify an item that exhibits good decision-making, and then one item that exhibits bad decision-making, and put those into your pocket, okay? Now, to prep them for the meeting as well, and you want to prep them, by the way, you can send them an email or just set them up with this, communicate it to them, and ask them to come to the meeting with the best decision they made this week, in the past week, and the worst decision.
Now, this presupposes that you have a relationship with them that is healthy enough so that they're comfortable bringing to you their failures, and that's on you as a leader to get them comfortable enough to do that. You want to start with them and have them share their best and worst decisions.
Perhaps it'll be something that actually aligns with the two that you picked. Perhaps it'll be two different ones. It doesn't really matter that much, because what you're trying to do is you're trying to build their competency by helping them to think through the decisions they make, bad or good. [14:02.2]
First question you want to ask them, let's say you take their worst decision first, right? Start with a negative, if you like. Ask them, “Tell me about your thinking process.” Maybe they made a bad decision because they were under pressure or they had incomplete information, whatever the case may be. “Tell me about your thinking process.” Listen very carefully.
Now, you can tell pretty quickly when someone's B.S.-ing you and perhaps they haven't done any thinking at all. They're just in paper-pushing mentality and you're trying to up-level their game to that critical-thinking level, which will help them to build their competency and, therefore, their confidence. As they're telling you about the thinking process, let them answer that.
Then ask them another question. “What worked for you as you were going through this process?” and listen carefully. “What didn't work?” and listen for what they're saying, because perhaps sometimes there's a bad decision that's made and parts of what they did worked well, but parts didn't. Listen for the things that are in their control and out of their control.
Sometimes someone thinks there's a bad decision that's been made because of the outcome of the decision. But sometimes what happens is they make a decision and the outcome isn't what you want, but the process they used in making that decision was the right one. There were things that were outside of their control that caused the decision to be viewed as a bad one. [15:15.3]
Then ask them, “If you could make the decision again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?” It's a very good question to ask. Then, if possible, after they answer that, work with them on creating a system of actions that would produce a better outcome next time.
Perhaps they make a decision and there's some communication clash. Maybe they're a project manager and they make a decision or a call that affects the field, but they didn't communicate it well with the field, and, therefore, the field got confused. The foreman or the super got confused or something like that. You know what I'm talking about here.
What you would do, as far as the system of actions is concerned, is set up a system where “Hey, next time you're going to make a call like that, make sure that you communicate with the super or the foreman before you make the call so they know what's going on and everyone is on the same page.” [16:01.2]
Okay, so remember how you build confidence in people is by building their competence. What you want to get them to do is to be critically thinking about the work that they're involved in. If they come to you during their week, ask them when they have an issue, “What would you do?” Put it on them to come up with some ideas. Give them that positive reinforcement when they do something well, and remember that that is the fuel that can help them get between the face-to-face meetings with you.
Then have that weekly meeting where you bring an example of a good decision and a bad decision, and have them bring an example of a good decision and a bad decision. If they're not doing very well bringing those examples to you, then you bring the examples and you just walk through one good decision, one bad decision. Each one should take five or 10 minutes, so if you're meeting with them for an hour, this portion of the meeting could take 20 to 30 minutes, but it could be extremely instructive because this is your opportunity to mentor them.
This is your opportunity to listen to how they're thinking, to correct their thinking, to guide them, to give them insights, one or two insights or hooks that can help them the next time they have to make that decision to make it at a higher level, to be more effective, to be more competent. [17:04.8]
As they build that competency, over time, what happens? They become more confident, and you want confident people in your organization. You want people who are dialed in, who know what's up, who are able to represent the best interests of your company, who are able to build projects profitably.
But this takes time, and this is not going to happen if you are always micromanaging and inserting yourself in their issues and doing stuff for them. You've got to be patient. You've got to back off a little bit. You've got to set the parameters, again, where you are comfortable for them to fail, within which you're comfortable with them failing, and then just give them time to develop there. I know these things aren't easy. I know it's easy to say, difficult to do, but, again, we're talking about how to become a better leader so that you can build better teams, so that you can build a better company.
All right, now, as we're going through this, I know that you are thinking, “Eric, I don't have time to have my one-on-one meetings. My schedule is crazy. It's out of control.” I believe you and that's exactly why you need to do what we're talking about here today, and we're not going to get into detail on this, but you should stop trying to manage your time and you should start managing your calendar. [18:08.0]
I say this, I’ve said this many times before and I’ll keep saying it, you need to create time blocks. Time blocks. In those time blocks, you need to set aside time every week or every other week to meet with your direct reports and discipline yourself to have those meetings consistently.
Okay, so we talked about what confidence is, why confidence is important, and how to build confidence. Back to my 12-year-old and my 7-year-old. One thing I know is that no one is going pro anytime soon in my house, and that's totally cool. That's not why we play sports.
By the way, one of the biggest ways you can serve your kids is to take off your Dad or your Mom goggles when you're looking at your kids in anything that they do, whether it's sports or extracurricular activities, and make sure that you're doing your best to objectively evaluate their proficiency.
One of the things, particularly in sports in the United States, one of the things that sports clubs do, competitive clubs do, is they sell you on some dream of a D1 scholarship or professional playing. Really, that's a bunch of baloney, okay? [19:08.8]
Now, if you like traveling around with your kids, watching them play competitive sports and having them all involved in that, I have no problem with that. Me, personally, I’ve got five kids. I'm not going to spend every weekend traipsing around Northern California, because I already know that I don't have any professional athletes and the path to college for them is going to be much easier by way of academics or by way of scholarships, if necessary, then by athletic performance. Anyway, think about that objectively.
No one is going pro, but what my kids are doing is they're building their skills over time. They're building their competency in a particular area through playing soccer, and, again, they may not be highly competent, but they're going through the painful process of building competency and gaining confidence, and my hope is that they'll be able to take that lesson forward into other areas of their lives.
What's your next step? Your next step is to get into action and schedule those meetings with your direct reports. It's interesting. This process I'm describing to you, I developed in a coaching call with one of my executive coaching clients, this whole process of how to build confidence. [20:10.8]
He's an area manager responsible for a team of project managers and project engineers. He's learning how to step out of that project-building mindset into the people-building mindset, and as we had one of our one-on-one coaching calls, we do it over zoom, we had this conversation about how to build confidence in his people and this is the framework that we developed as we chatted.
If you own a construction company and you have senior leaders who you think would benefit from having an outside voice to help them be more effective in their role, then reach out to me. I've worked with senior executives and construction companies, owners of construction companies, since 2004. You can go to my website, www.ConstructionGenius.com/contact. Put your details in there. I'll contact you and we can spend 10 minutes together on the phone, figuring out if or how I might be able to help you.
Appreciate your time today. Thank you for listening, and I’ll catch you on the next session. [21:00.7]
Hey, this is Eric. Thanks again for listening to Construction Genius today. Before you jet off, do me a quick favor. If you found that this was a helpful episode, share it with someone who you think would benefit from listening to it. Also, if you could give us a rating or review, or both, wherever you get your podcasts, that would be terrific, and thanks again for listening to Construction Genius.
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