Growing People. Building Culture.
From the heart
This blog happened like this. Kendrick was supposed to tell his own story about coming into the construction industry. His immediate answer was, “Literally, my only experience in life has been ‘Team’, so by default, I have chosen to run a business this way.”
And we were immediately off-track, but in an incredible direction.
The following paragraphs come from our conversation about the gritty and stubborn details of keeping people the priority in a business, and what it actually looks like to build a culture from a position of servanthood. This may be way quicker and far more ‘expressive’ than most books on the subject, so enjoy reading this punchy and emotional “from the heart of Kendrick” conversation. The long quotes you see are his words directly from this dialogue.
The best leaders are the best servants
“Servant Leadership” was the popular title of many books on the subject during the early 2000’s, so it’s adopted a cliche stigma. But back away from what you think you know about servant leadership and take a hard look at the reality of leading from a position where you see your job as simply, “Caring for your team’s growth as people, helping them through challenges and growing alongside them through uncomfortable situations.” You’ll really believe that,
The best Leaders are the best servants.
“My experience is Team. I was not an ‘individual sport’ athlete (tennis or golf), I was a team sport guy. I know teams, so by default, I have chosen to run a business more like a head coach. By default, this has separated us as a company in the construction industry.”
“You come to understand that to become a real leader of a genuine team in which people feel really invested, the leader has to be the best servant. We all agree that you have to have someone steering the ship, sure, but that’s only a small part of it. The bulk of the job is making sure everyone is rowing together.”
“A great example is this: I know our ‘Introduce Yourself Policy’ will cause certain people anxiety, especially if it means introducing themselves to an ownership group, or a high-level client. If you’re not feeling worthy, ok, fine, but get over it, because you do have what it takes to introduce yourself to anyone. People who feel valued feel valuable. And when you focus on creating an environment where everyone feels like they bring meaning and also receive meaning from their work, everyone begins to feel a healthy level of confidence begin to grow.”
Working to create meaningful work
You might guess where this is headed, meaningful work is a byproduct of meaningful relationship. The first part of this is empowering a person to extract meaning from their work by providing everyone with a clear plan of attack for each day. A good leader provides these guidelines, then must be available to provide support as it’s needed. An NFL athlete is nothing without coaches, trainers, nutritionists and the waterboy. As leaders we play all these supporting parts to give each team-player the absolute best chance of succeeding. Remember, we only count success when everyone shares in that success.
The second component of creating meaningful work is responsibility. When someone does a great job, they get more responsibility, authority, and support. But part and parcel to this is the expectation of being willing to step up and shine the spotlight on yourself if you’ve screwed up.”
“Allow people to make mistakes, and give them a platform to be transparent. We know there are mistakes, show me a human being who’s perfect, so the question isn’t how to prevent mistakes but rather how do we work through them, together. As leaders we are hyper-transparent about our own mistakes as people. Only by being open and honest about our own shit, can we create real vulnerability and empowerment.”
Responsibility means, we are going to Plain Talk.
Surprise. Most People Love Being on Teams.
“Why do you think some people sign up just to be on a team. Hundreds of professional players don’t even care if they warm the bench, they just want to be a part of something that is bigger than just one person, they want to be in that social environment. They want to be a part of something big, unified, powerful.”
“In the corporate world, why do people do team building exercises? Why does it feel so good? People working desk jobs love this stuff, everyone looks forward to their ‘team day’ twice a year so much. Why not just run our companies this way? It’s actually way more fun to work as a team! It’s just innately gratifying.”
It’s not nearly as fun to accomplish something alone, you want to turn around to someone and say, “Did you see that!”. We want to share our success with others and we want them to share their success with us. Optimum’s a terrible fit for people who don’t get this. When people genuinely care about one another we win and success will come only if the team remains the most important thing to everyone on it.
The team’s not just nuclear, either. To us that’s everyone, client to sub, employee to vendor. We all want to accomplish the same things right?
“I get fired up about accomplishing things with a large group of people”
Start Here: Listening
“The first step to this kind of relational leadership: get outside yourself. Put yourself in each other’s shoes. What does that person need? Place your own needs second, and think about where the other person is coming from. Work through whatever the issue is, you are very capable of coming up with a solution, together, while respecting each other in the process.”
You feel like a team when people take the time to understand where the other person is coming from through communication. It has to start with careful and deep listening. If you can identify someone’s real need, that thing most people aren’t perceptive enough to pick up on, you become humble. You care about the right things, and re-prioritize to a healthy place. The problem that created the conflict becomes something everyone can work together in solving rather than pitting everyone against their neighbor. Everything becomes simple as your effort lines up around the right priorities. The paradox is that in trying to fulfill someone else’s needs we get our own needs met as well.
For instance. Imagine a subcontractor gets onsite and they are ruffled, out of sorts and frustrated. Does that need to stop everything? No. Plain Talk starts with a good direct question, then shut your mouth and listen. They might be frustrated because we did not prepare them well for this day on site, we may discover that there’s a simple issue we haven’t addressed and we can quickly remedy this. We get past the emotion and into the serving, we get the problem solved and we’re able to keep things moving. That ultimately serves the client, it serves us, it serves that subcontractor. We spend less time being angry and frustrated and more time being fulfilled by serving. being a part of this cycle is Empowering. Being on an emotional merry-go-round is debilitating. Most construction sites feel chaotic because there is no one stopping to listen.
“It’s not always nice to have a hard conversation. As a culture, we’re very direct and honest, but that can be the most caring thing for a person, especially if they are off-base. If you’re the one who’s off, take responsibility. Sure it’s a lot of work, calming yourself and listening while still being direct, but once that’s who you are it’s real easy, it becomes second nature because you’re not seeking approval all the time. It takes practice, just like everything, but here, this is a skill we encourage people to work on. It’s a valuable use of your time because the result is: you’re focused on working toward the common goal for the team every day.” When this is happening, everyone wins.
It Ain’t Perfect
Don’t think we’re standing here in some shiny suit with a microphone telling you we have this nailed down and buttoned up. Show us a human being and we’ll bet everything we’ve got that they make mistakes, daily. The purpose isn’t to eliminate them all, it’s rather to accept them and build a healthy way of dealing with them together. Our values and our culture are our goal, they’re not always the way we act.
But, if a team isn’t trying to win the Superbowl, then what’s the point of playing? Most teams may not get it, but you work at it every year, improving toward a singular and clear marker of success. The culture of transparency and selflessness and meaning and fulfillment is our main goal. Our core values are our “plays”, the approach we will use to get there.
So what are we working on now, Kendrick?
“Group Recognition. Appreciating people in the group in front of each other for being good stewards of our culture. Validating that they are showing our values by executing their work on the foundation of what we believe. We need to be having conversations about these things more openly. We have one-on-one, which is good, but we need to do a much better job at communicating success from a cultural perspective as a group. I suck at it. That’s my job, and I don’t do it. But as a leader I can recognize this and just follow-through. There, that’s me being transparent.”
Moving Toward the One Thing
That’s the snapshot. We’re not perfect, we don’t expect people to behave perfectly, but we are shooting toward a healthy team culture built on the shoulders of people who love to serve each other. We want everyone to feel that their work is meaningful, that they are empowered to succeed. The reward? More internal satisfaction and then, ultimately, more responsibility. Doesn’t that sound like a fun job? A good life?
If so, then start by listening, we mean really listening to others. Putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand them.
Don’t worry, no one succeeds every time, we all make relational errors along the way, but that’s an opportunity to work as a team, and that’s all we’re after.
Let’s share our successes.