How to Develop Your Leadership Effectiveness

Norb Slowikowski

March 2008

Wall and ceiling contractors turn down lucrative jobs for a lot of reasons. I recently heard of a case where a contractor chose not to bid on a job because the safety policy imposed by the general contractor was simply too strict.

Everybody agrees that leading people is extremely important in the workplace. Since many people are not self-starters, we have to find ways to move people in a positive direction to achieve desired results. The best approach is to lead by example, which includes the following activities.

Project a Winning Attitude
Whether you are the owner, vice president, manager, superintendent, foreman or crew leader, you must approach your job with an engaging outlook that projects success to those around you. When things go wrong, you need to be solutions-oriented. By responding positively to negative situations, you will enhance your credibility as an action-oriented manager who is willing to get involved when problems occur. Instead of yelling at people and blaming them for mistakes, work with them to identify the problem and resolve it.

Watch Your Style
What is your leadership style? To be effective, your style must include the following actions:

Collaborate. Work with your people to discuss solutions and obstacles.

Be accessible. When somebody really needs your input on something, be there for them without griping or complaining.

Provide positive reinforcement when people produce quality work or do more than what’s expected. Be supportive rather than critical. Most importantly, be specific. Know exactly why you’re giving positive feedback or else it will ring hollow, and make sure it is due to progress or success on a job-related activity. Remember: In order to give positive feedback, you must be aware of what is happening on the job site. This way, you can give positive reinforcement in a timely manner, when it will mean the most. Don’t forget to give feedback based on small gains or contributions as well as large ones. Since people operate at varying degrees of effectiveness, don’t ignore those that are small improvements—they’re still improvements. When people realize you care about their efforts, they will continue to produce.

Be an active listener. You can’t use ideas until you actively listen to what people suggest. When people come to you with a problem, make sure you get them to specifically identify the problem and its underlying causes. Then ask them if they have a possible solution. If their solution makes sense, have them implement it. This shows that you’re really listening.

Avoid blaming or criticizing others when a mistake occurs. Remember to attack the problem, not the person. When a person makes a mistake, ask him if he realizes what he has done. If he does know, ask him to explain what went wrong. Avoid pointing out the mistake first. Next, ask him how he would fix it. If he responds with the correct measures, all you have to do is agree and suggest he use that solution the next time. If he doesn’t realize he has made a mistake or doesn’t know how to fix it, you must provide your expertise in a positive, supportive manner. Do some coaching.

Adopt an action-orientation. Encourage your people to take action and develop a sense of urgency about the work they do. In tandem with this, tell them to be innovative by trying new or better ways of operating on a day-to-day basis. When something works, make sure they tell you about it so you can share it with the rest of the organization. It’s a "Ready-Fire-Aim” Strategy that lets people experiment while learning from their mistakes. Aim those ideas that work. Share them with others in the organization.

In the end, to be an effective leader, you have to step up to the plate and make it happen yourself. People will follow your lead if you go about your job with a winning attitude and create a positive work climate.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill.