This article was originally published in our April 2, 2004, newsletter.
Ever had a day, maybe a week, where you said, “That’s it, I’m done. Enough already.” You wanted to put a sign in the front window: “FOR SALE: One Construction Company, CHEAP! (I’ll pay you to take this stupid thing off my hands.)”
Sometimes, things don’t go well. You want to bag it. This happens to almost everyone at some point in business.
At least once a week, I hear these comments from a potential coaching client. They call me, ready to throw in the towel. “Why am I doing this to myself? Can I save this stupid company? What do I do to get out of this morass of debt, nasty customers and ungrateful employees that I have created?”
Let’s look at what you need in order to stay on top of your business and not let it get you or your employees down. Let’s talk about staying the course.
You need courage. That’s what determines your long-term success in this business. Fully one-third of the people who get into some form of a construction-related business do not last the first year. Over half are gone by the end of their second year. Three-fourths are history by the end of the third year. Ouch.
On the other side, if you talk to the buying public, everyone knows how rich contractors are getting. Start a business and you are assured of vast profits. We haul our wealth to the bank in cream cans.
When reality sets in, those with little or no heart drift off to find easier pickings. It takes real courage to work through the problems of this business on a day-to-day basis.
Michael Jordan said, “I know fear is an obstacle for some people, but it is an illusion to me . . . Failure always made me try harder next time.” Is there any wonder he was arguably one of the very best basketball players of all time?
You need patience, lots of it and in two parts. It takes patience to run your business one day at a time, to attack problems one at a time. Additionally, you need the ability to set long-term goals for yourself, your employees and your company. It takes patience to let them happen.
When you started your business, you knew it would take time to get up and going. All of a sudden we have to get everything done at once? When it doesn’t all come together in some pre-determined time frame, many cut and run. They can’t stand not knowing when things will turn around and the business will take off. They aren’t in complete control, so they quit.
Things happen that sidetrack and delay the best-laid plans. Patience, young Jedi. Keep your eye on the target. On the shelf above my computer monitor is a small sign I put up many years ago, with a quote from E. Joseph Cossman: “Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal.”
That brings us to focus. Focusing your time and attention on your business while you’re at work takes effort. Few people have the strength to do this. It is easy to get distracted in our fast-paced world. However, to make a business successful, especially one involved in the construction industry, focus is essential. You and your people must stay focused on the task at hand.
You start to do this by setting your tasks for each day. This should be done every morning. Prioritize your list and stay focused on the top item until it is done. Then, move on to item two, then three, etc. Your staff should be taught this process and you should insist they use the same approach to planning their day and their week.
I believe Brian Tracy is the one who said, “Successful people do the things they don’t like to do, and they do them first.”
You must become a true leader to build a strong and vibrant company. To encourage others, to instill confidence in them, to help them perform at their best requires first of all that you lead by example.
A true leader refuses to consider the possibility of failure. Many key events in human history have occurred because of the resolution, or lack thereof, of one person. Abe Lincoln, on one occasion, overruled his cabinet (after a 1-9 vote) to see through a resolution he felt he needed to win the battle at hand and bring the nation back together. Courageous patience is the true test of a great leader.
The true leader also allows his people to make mistakes. Mistakes happen regardless of the penalties you impose, so take a positive approach. Help alleviate the fear of failure and rejection in others by encouraging them to take a calculated risk and allow honest mistakes.
Give your people regular praise and approval. Congratulate the “good tries” as well as the successes, large and small. Create a workplace where your people feel safe from blame or criticism of any kind. Then say and do things that make people feel good about themselves and the work they are doing.
One of our coaching clients recently called and told me about giving a job superintendent he had employed for several years a transfer to the competition. He brought in a new job super, turned him loose and saw an almost immediate change in the attitude of his field staff. The new guy had self-esteem, a plan to get things done and gave the employees a pat on the back and a “well done” frequently. Now people are getting the work done on time and are also willing to put in extra effort to get the jobs completed.
Remember, you and your employees are going to screw up. Mistakes are going to be made, so don’t act surprised when they do. How you respond to those situations will go a long way in setting an example for your employees on how you want things handled or done.
In everything you do, set a good example. Smile, do your job, stay focused on the work you need to do. Be someone others are happy to spend time with, even briefly.
Delegate and insist your employees do the work you are paying them to do. Don’t do it for them. Telling them to “take care of it” when they start asking you to think for them, shows you mean business. This will also free up your time to do the things you need to do each day and each week.
When something happens and you get pushed off the wall, make it a habit to bounce, not break. Encourage your employees to respond in the same manner and you will start to see an improvement in the attitude of yourself and your people. A good attitude makes staying the course much easier.