Leading your people

Jackie Casey examines leadership, emotional intelligence and soft skills

For a long time now leadership skills have been bandied about as being essential for the construction industry to progress. Back in 1998 Sir John Egan reported that ‘The industry must provide decent and safe working conditions and improve management and supervisory skills at all levels’.

Ten years later the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) published their ‘Leadership in the Construction Industry’ report which also highlighted that leadership is more than just deploying ‘the so-called Hard Skills such as planning, directing, organising and keeping score’.

Since then the industry has had a variety of initiatives including Construction Commitments and Construction 2025 all pretty much focused on the fact that change was needed but both upholding a better focus on Health and Safety and both giving greater emphasis to People and Leadership in the industry.

21st century research by academics and psychologists also defined leadership as having been an issue in construction ‘traditional’ leadership style in the industry has been based on technical skills with a focus on managing activity in order to complete projects, a more ‘production-oriented rather than relationship-oriented style of management’.

My own ongoing research since 2011 shows that construction leadership is focused on technical ability and project completion rather than vision, people engagement and leading people into the future. Of course, this study followed an extremely difficult recession and therefore leaders could be forgiven for focusing on efficiencies and procurement practice, perhaps because understandably their perspective was one of having more important things to think about than their leadership approach, their personal style or that of their supply chain.

Construction has been talking about its need for leadership for at least three decades (Latham, 1994) and the approach remains based on improving efficiency both in delivery and in procurement. But is this enough? What about communicating vision and employee engagement? And what of leadership style?

Like most things if there was one simple answer we would have found it by now and already be implementing it! Leadership style is important but is only one piece of the jigsaw and there are volumes written on the subject. Experience and knowledge is key and we do know that in terms of leadership style, those with a ‘transformational style’ tend to focus much more on supporting, developing and motivating others in order to achieve greater success. Whereas, the transactional style of leadership which is customary in the industry is much more about ‘command and control’ in order to complete a project or achieve greater cost savings, retentions and supply chain control.

The very nature of the command and control style is about managing loss or avoidance of loss, whereas the nature of transformational leadership is about people and those people being engaged and motivated enough to pull out the stops to get the job over the line. From an equality and diversity perspective studies show that the transformational style is much more easily adopted by female leaders because they have a more interactive and inclusive style.

In my study in it was evident that most leaders at that time had progressed into leadership roles not based on style but based on technical and mechanical ability and longevity in the industry. As with most things there is a flip side to this coin too.

Those with experience and capability bring much to the table but the very depth of experience that they bring can often lead to them doing the same thing and operating in the same way, and of course doing that never gets you different or better results, so what benefits could better construction equality and diversity deliver?

When you read anything that relates to improving skills, teams or leadership it is usually followed by a reference to ‘Soft Skills’ but what exactly does ‘Soft Skills’ mean? And what impact can Soft Skills have on leadership? Soft Skills can have an enormous effect on getting things done. If you liken ‘soft skills’ to being the glue that enables people to relate, communicate, manage themselves and others then that is good place to start.

Many now believe that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is fundamental to great leadership and as a subject or science has been increasing in popularity and recognition over the last 25 years or so particularly in relation to leadership. One of the leading exponents of EQ is Daniel Goleman who writes that at higher levels, interpersonal abilities matter more than technical skills in setting star performers apart. Emotional Intelligence in leadership is about inspiring and motivating others to engage with your vision and mission. Developing your EQ as leader helps you to recognise and handle your internal responses maintaining your effectiveness as you work towards achieving the business goals. Another aspect of EQ is about recognising and being sensitive to the emotional states of others and communicating in a way that doesn’t violate the relationship and encourages and motivates.

As a leader, knowing what triggers motivation at a ‘below consciousness’ level in yourself, employees and even clients adds invaluable information to any situation even those of a more personal nature, and only increases your effectiveness to influence and achieve organisational and personal goals.

EQ’s Daniel Goleman states that most leaders are hired on their technical ability and expertise but will be judged and fired based on their lack of emotional intelligence. In the 2015 white paper published by Roffey Park, ‘Building leadership capability in the construction sector’ their findings clearly indicate that what troubles leaders right now and in the next five years relates to Leadership, People, Skills, Management and Employee engagement.

Effective leadership is important in any organisation because there is no escaping the fact that it is the people in an organisation who will deliver a leader’s vision. This means that the discretionary effort made by the workforce will undoubtedly depend on the level of relationship, respect and engagement that an organisation’s leader(s) has with its people.

Success Train People is always keen to hear from organisational leaders who would like to learn more about tools for leadership enhancement, for themselves and their employees.

Jackie Casey is Managing Director of Success Train. People development and business growth are at the heart of Success Train’s specialist services. To survive and thrive companies need to generate work, improve business procedures and cultivate teams to progress and succeed. Success Train provides specialist services including coaching, leadership and management development, psychometric assessments, recruitment support and bespoke training programmes in a range of topics including equality and diversity, communication, language and behaviour patterns and advanced sales training.

For more information, please see www.successtrain.co.uk