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Leadership in Preconstruction – Leading the Way for Positive Change

Taimoor Khan, Vice President, Preconstruction, Satterfield & Pontikes Construction, Inc.

Leadership in Preconstruction – Leading the Way for Positive Change

Posted: June 3, 2022 | Project Management

By Taimoor Khan, Vice President, Preconstruction, Satterfield & Pontikes Construction, Inc.

I had the privilege of speaking at the Advancing Preconstruction Conference in Dallas, Texas last year and talked about the importance of leadership in preconstruction for positive change. There were two aspects of my topic: one was more focused on leadership, and the other was about the role of a leader in bringing positive change. Those two are both critical issues that our industry and our country are currently facing.

If responsible leadership has ever been critical, it’s even more so today. We’ve been going through some unprecedented times for the last couple of years – people went through emotional, financial, and physical stress – and we don’t yet know when it’s going to end. The issues everyone is facing are pretty much global and not specific to any industry, however I would like to keep it more focused on preconstruction.

I have been working in preconstruction for over 16 years and have evolved from a junior estimator who didn’t know anything about estimating or construction to a leadership role. This journey has been amazing, and I had the opportunity to work with some very knowledgeable construction and preconstruction professionals.

Early in my career I didn’t even know about leadership or what a leader looked like. I thought the word leadership was more often used in the political world or in history books. I was more aware of words like “boss”, “supervisor”, and “manager”, and eventually I learned that good leaders are different from good managers. I don’t know if I would call anyone a bad leader, as I believe that if you’re being called a leader, it must only be good. And if you’re bad, then probably you aren’t a leader yet. After a few years, I started to realize that there is something called leadership, which is beyond those traditional words we use to describe the person in a position of authority over you. I also started to realize that with great power and authority comes great responsibility, which means that true leadership is closer to Simon Sinek’s definition: “Leadership is not about being in charge but about taking care of the people in your charge.”

Whenever I worked with managers, I always gave them my bare minimum just to get the job done – nothing more, nothing less. But when I worked for a good leader, I wanted to exceed their expectations and always put forth extra effort to do more. That made me think about how critical good leadership is to any organization’s success and overall productivity. I started to reflect on the reasons why I behaved differently when working under different types of managers and leaders and concluded that the difference was in the leadership. John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I started working toward becoming a leader long before I got into a leadership position because I didn’t want to become a manager – I wanted to become a leader.

One thing that was common in all the good leaders I encountered was that they genuinely cared about me, which was why I felt connected with them. Good leadership is about influencing people in positive ways so they can share your vision. I was never like just a number to these good leaders with whom I was fortunate to work, or merely an individual who se work was benefiting them or the organization. They cared about how I felt and how they could help me grow.

There is currently a serious shortage of skilled labor and professionals in the construction industry – too much work and not enough resources. A lot of companies are struggling with recruiting not just people, but good people. Those who are moving from one company to another are being offered better compensation, benefits, and an acceptable work-life balance.

Working dynamics have been changed due to the past two years of dealing wit h the global COVI D pandemic. One challenge is recruiting and the other (which is even more critical) is retaining talent. I agree that the attractive fina ncial packages and benefits are a significant driver for people who are making big moves in their careers, but I also believe that job s witching is exacerbated when a person doesn’t have a strong connection with their team and their leader.

Career-oriented people are never focused on short-term benefits; they understand the value of a strong team and a leader who can help them achieve the heights of their career. People who are offered a little more money and a lateral move in a different organization will only leave their current position if they don’t have a strong connection with their organization. A leader’s job is more important now than ever. He must make sure he builds a strong bond with his team – not only for the benefit of the organization, but also for the bene fit of each member of the team.

Strong teams can work wonders. The leader’s job is to bu ild that s trong, efficient team into one where team memb ers trust each other. If companies are not able to find more resources, they will need to take stock of their existing resources and catch up with bus iness needs, which means that people will need to work longer hours and do more to accommodate the shortage of resources –directly impacting work-life balance. The pandemic has taught everyone the value of a good work-life balance and the importance of spending more time with their loved ones. One of the things I observed is that putting the wrong people in the wrong chairs also ne gatively affects productivity, hence reducing morale and efficiency.

More efficient and productive processes and systems require change. Change can make things better, and although much needed, change can be also scary. People, being people, seem to first think about what they must give up to get something. People are more comfortable with solutions to older problems than new solutions tone wer problems because it takes them out of th eir comfortzone.

An effective leader’s job is to first get people comfortable with the vision and the value of change so there is a buy-in to the change. People buy-in to the leader first before buying in to the vision. The two main purposes of innovation and change are the identification of better ways to do something and working smarter (not harder). This change may require implementation of new technologies, processes, and workflows. Leaders act as a change agent as well as taking the responsibility of risk to lead the way and being able to take the blame if things go wrong. John Maxwell teaches a process to bring about positive change in an organization. I have been following these steps and found them very effective. This process is called PLAN AHEAD and it’s laid out as follows:

• Predetermine the change that is needed.
• Lay out your steps.
• Adjust your priorities.
• Notify key people.
• Allow time for acceptance.
• Head into action.
• Expect problems.
• Always point to the successes.
•  Daily review your progress.

A leader’s job doesn’t end with just bringing positive change to the organization. He also helps the team cope with the change and maximize their potential by developing their strengths. People tend to stay longer with an organization where they feel connected with their team and leader, feel safe and secure, have a growth plan and opportunities, and feel appreciated and valued. It sounds very simple; every organization knows it but very few create such an environment.

The leader’s job is to identify strengths and weaknesses of his team members and always focus on maximizing potential through their strengths instead of dragging them down by hitting hard on their weaknesses. People grow better and faster in their areas of strength, and by doing so they overcome many shortcomings of their weaknesses. Most professional organizations don’t even have a growth plan, and the common strategy for growth is work hard and hope for the best. That’s not a strategy. People need to be intentional about their growth, not haphazard – that’s why they connect better with leaders who help them determine their growth plan.

Leaders are responsible for crafting inspiring environments where people can flourish, and where organizations can benefit. Many organizations promote people into a leadership role who are good at what they do or are subject matter experts. The issue is this: when such individuals get into leadership roles, they start micromanaging people because now they are responsible for people doing what they used to do.

Organizations need to identify people with leadership abilities, train them, and polish their leadership skills. The only way leaders can become better at leadership is if they practice leadership daily. Leadership is all about influencing people, and the only way to develop influence is to build relationships. Relationships in turn build trust and, once you have built a trusted relationship, you can do wonders with people. Everyone has potential – they just need someone to help them identify and maximize their potential to achieve the achievable outstanding results.

For more about leadership in preconstruction, visit www.satpon.com.

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