Thirty-eight years of exposure to the construction industry have provided me with a look at a broad spectrum of industry leaders, leadership styles and insights into a correlation between those varying styles and company success. These leadership styles have, of course, evolved over time and will need to continue their evolution in order to remain impactful.
As the largest industry in the United States, the construction industry will need to evolve as well in order to maintain staff, develop organizations and build successful businesses in the years to come. How we as construction business leaders show up every day and represent the industry to our employees, clients, architects and the public, affects our bottom lines, the public’s investment in infrastructure and how our industry will deal with perhaps its greatest challenge—finding the next generation of leaders.
Understanding the varying approaches to leadership styles can help an organization develop and grow its next generation of leaders. Take into consideration the following approaches, noting the group in which you might categorize yourself and how your team can learn from each.
Style No. 1: The Boss
Early in my career, leaders tended to be entrepreneurial and autocratic, leading by the “command and control” mantra. We all know people like this. These particular business leaders were frequently either the entrepreneur, original founder or second-generation owner/manager of the business.
Decisions were single-point, driven by the leader’s own instincts, drive and creativity. This leadership style still exists in many organizations, and very well may be present in yours if any of the following statements are true to the company:
Staff avoid the boss because you never know how he or she will react, so it’s best to only speak when spoken to.
- The classic “my way or the highway” sentiment conveys meaning to you.
- All significant decisions cross one desk and run through one pair of ears—the boss’s.
- The leader is involved in every sale and is the sole chief of the organization.
- The leader’s name, personality and persona are prominently featured in the company name, and he or she is viewed as the alpha and omega of the organization.
Obvious drawbacks to this style of leadership include a lack of empowered staff, a deficit in next-generation leadership (unless it is a family legacy, in which intergenerational conflict is a frequent symptom) and a centralization that severely limits the organization’s growth and development.
Style No. 2: The Inspirational Leader
In some organizations, the boss model has evolved into more of an inspirational leader model. Collaboration is present to a much greater extent than in a command-and-control model. The inspirational leader may be present in your organization if:
- The boss has a large personality and remains the chief “rainmaker” and driver of the organization.
- The leader manages by fear and the “my way or the highway” mentality, and he/she is described by their staff as a smart superstar in the industry, driving the rest of the organization toward greatness.
- There is still a sense of the indispensable leader, whose name, personality and management style are inextricably linked to the reputation of the organization.
While more collaborative and evolved from the traditional boss style, limitations to this type of leadership model are still very much present. The world remains only as large as the length of the boss’s arms, so to speak. Staff morale might trend higher in this style organization, given a greater degree of potential collaboration and autonomy. In addition, demands on leadership to find staff interested in and capable of engaging in higher levels of company improvement will be greater.
I would suggest that both the boss and the inspirational leader model limit company valuations. The presence of non-personality-driven leadership is key in the valuation of companies by acquisition and equity firms. The less dependent a company’s success is on any one individual, the stronger the firm and, consequently, the higher the valuation of it.
Style No. 3: The Millennial Leader
Construction industry leaders need to be experts in understanding millennials. Millennials are currently coming of age in the construction industry, while simultaneously avoiding the cliché reputations of the generation (the expectation that everyone gets a trophy and has a sense of entitlement in the workplace). The characteristic of this new era of construction industry leaders seems driven by the “why” of operations and processes.
Examples of questions from millennial leaders include: Why are we pursuing this project? Why did you make that decision? Why did we do it this way when it could have been done that way? The frequent impatience of both the boss and the inspirational leader style of management and leadership needs to give way to conversation, explanation, group meetings and discussion. There is, in my perception, a growing generational search for meaning, relevancy and understanding of the “why” that isn’t going away any time soon.
Like it or not, millennials are the new generation of leadership in our industry. The construction industry is marked by the ever-present urgency of strict strategies and ways of planning, tight controls, hard decision deadlines, and an intense focus on efficiency and the incursion of risk. Those are possibly not natural motivations for the generation always asking “why?”
The organizational development brought about by the next generation of leadership will give way to more innovative companies and higher valuations, given the broader management responsibilities and more creative approaches to industry challenges. Expanding participation in organizational leadership will benefit our industry by enhancing its appeal to the next generation of leaders.