How to Become a Construction Leader Worth Following

There have been numerous studies done on what the average employee wants out of a job. One study suggests that the vast majority of employees, roughly 60 percent, would actually forego a pay raise if they could get a better boss in return

By David Woods, CEO, Magellan Executive Partners

There have been numerous studies done on what the average employee wants out of a job. One study suggests that the vast majority of employees, roughly 60 percent, would actually forego a pay raise if they could get a better boss in return.

Another way of saying that is: Most employees would pay their employer for a better boss. That is quite astonishing.

Unfortunately, not all companies can provide a better boss. Some companies continue to rely on an old-school management style that was fairly effective several decades ago, but not today. After World War II, there was a “command and control” approach to leadership. Bosses gave orders, employees followed them. This old-school management style stayed in place for many years. I heard one construction company owner refer to this as “head-knocker management”. I thought that summed it up perfectly.

In the early 1980s, though, I started to see a change. Some leaders began to use inspiration and influence to motivate employees, rather than head-knocking intimidation. As years went by, I saw this new, modern approach to leadership becoming more commonplace. Today, most successful organizations use this new style.
Employees Must Believe in What They Do

The modern approach to leadership is especially effective in industries such as construction. Turnover is high, often because the work is hard and sometimes thankless.

The question company owners and leaders must ask themselves is: How do I inspire employees to want to run through a brick wall? The answer is that employees must feel like there is something in it for them. Employees must feel like they are making a difference.

When I was the CEO of Ditch Witch, we employed roughly 1,600 people company-wide—20 of whom were janitors. I was asked to make a brief motivational speech to the janitors at one of their meetings. I was a janitor myself once, so I could relate to the difficult, important work these people do. My assignment was to let these 20 janitors know that. I wanted them to leave that meeting with a new level of pride in what they did.

I talked about the countless number of people who tour our manufacturing plant. Most of those people have no idea if we are making their machine correctly or torqueing bolts correctly on the assembly line. However, what every one of those people can understand is a clean bathroom. People will translate a “clean bathroom” into “this is a great organization”. In other words, the janitorial staff play a huge part in how the general public perceives our company.
construction leadershipEmployees Must Believe in the Company

Once employees are inspired to believe in the value of their individual work, an organization can begin making significant strides. But there’s one other aspect to the new, modern approach to leadership. Employees must believe in the company.

There is a restaurant chain that does this as well as anybody. The basic premise of why the company exists, to make chicken sandwiches, is nothing glamorous. But when customers walk into one of its restaurants, they get a completely different feeling than they get with the typical restaurant chain.

This company teaches its employees to do more than just make chicken sandwiches. The company educates employees about why it exists. That reason for existing shines through with every customer interaction. Maybe a customer is going through a difficult time. Maybe that customer is celebrating something. Whatever the case, every employee has a moment in time to make that customer’s day a little bit better. That is the real reason why this company exists. Employees understand it. Employees believe it.

Once a company defines its “why”, it can begin training employees to that. For example, the restaurant chain trains employees to respond with “it’s my pleasure” when a customer thanks them.

It’s important to recognize that this new, modern approach to leadership might not work with every employee in a company. But it’s likely to work with 80 percent.
Want to learn more?

I’ll be discussing how to implement this new, modern approach to leadership at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020. We’ll talk about the specific skills needed to become a better leader, regardless of whether you’re leading a team of managers or a group of employees on a jobsite.

We’ll also talk about specific actions a company can take to begin improving its culture. Transforming an organization takes commitment and time. Our session will provide the ideas and tools to help owners and leaders get started as soon as they return home from the show.

Attend the education session "How to Be a Construction Leader Worth Following" on Tuesday, March 10, 2020 from 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. at CONEXPO-CON/AGG.


As CEO of Magellan Executive Partners, David is passionate about helping CEOs and owners grow their organizations, leaders and teams. David is an expert in strategic thinking, executive development and leadership coaching. David’s greatest attribute is the deep level of trust and friendship he builds with those he has the opportunity to know and serve. David is a published author and sought after speaker on leadership and growth. David is also the former CEO of Ditch Witch Construction Equipment. Visit for more information.