What Your Foremen Won’t Tell You
Written by Mark Breslin
I bet you think you know your foremen well. You don’t. Not really. And while they may have been working for you forever, you haven’t really been paying attention.
Your foremen are the backbone of your company. And they are holding back on you. You’re missing a lot by making assumptions about who they are and what they think. And those assumptions are costing you hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars in lost profits over the course of their, and your, careers.
Knowing Your Foremen
I’ve spent the last several years talking with and training several thousand foremen and superintendents all over the U.S. and Canada, so I know what I’m saying when I tell you that you honestly don’t have a clue what’s going on inside their heads. Let’s start by examining a list I put together of ten very important things you probably don’t understand about your foremen:
- Your foremen don’t see themselves as professionals and they don’t describe themselves that way. They don’t see what they do as being a professional position. In fact, they barely see it as a management position. If they guys who are going to manage $100,000,000 to $1 billion in projects over the course of their careers aren’t professionals, then what are they? Maybe you should ask them.
- On average, your foremen have received zero formal professional leadership and management training to prepare them for this high-level responsibility, role, and identity.
- Your foremen don’t know what they do for a living. When I ask them, a full 90 per cent respond with, “I’m a (fill in the craft here, whether that’s a Carpenter, Electrician, Pipefitter, or Ironworker).” This is the wrong answer, and it reflects a craft-worker mindset, not a supervisory one. The correct answer is, “I am a professional construction foreman/superintendent.” It’s very difficult for them to make that jump and not feel embarrassed, but how they see themselves will help determine how they act and lead on the job. They are no longer just “one of the guys”.
- Your foremen rarely solicit input from their crews. They may think they will look weak, worry that someone else will get credit for a good idea and take their job, would never even think to ask, or may not even know that it’s part of their job.
- Your foremen run their crews almost 100 per cent of the time using authority, not influence. Which approach do you think is more effective, productive, and profitable?
- Your foremen are often stuck between the roles of being a ‘boss’ and being a ‘friend’. This kills their ability to discipline and to hold others accountable for their actions.
- Your foremen do not effectively delegate work. Typically, they are ‘get-it-done’ people and will therefore over-participate in the action at the jobsite. They are excellent at directing tasks and generally do not empower people; and wouldn’t know how to anyway. Ever wonder whose fault that is?
- Your foremen often have confused loyalties between their roles as multi-million-dollar company managers and union members. The peer pressure of being a ‘good union guy’ is leveraged regularly by their peers, which reduces their effectiveness and authority.
- Your foremen do not easily admit mistakes or failures. In their eyes, failure is not a learning experience and is simply just that, a failure.
- Your foremen do not know how to effectively motivate their crews. The most effective and well-documented tools of praise and positive reinforcement are generally entirely absent. What was not given to them will not be given to others.
Fixing the Problems
I’m willing to bet that a few of the items on that list didn’t come as a complete surprise to you. So, the obvious question is, “What are you doing to fix these attitudes among your foremen?” By refusing to act or address the problems, you own them and they’re all on you.
How about the attitudes and actions on the list that you didn’t know about? Now that you’re aware of them, what’s your next move? Are you going to discuss them and provide your guys with the tools to address them, or just rationalize them away and take the path of least resistance?
Several hundred thousand foremen are waiting for help. They’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got, but they need their employers to help them understand how important and vital they are to their company and the industry. They need serious professional support to become high-quality leaders and managers. But really, I think they’re waiting for you to acknowledge the challenges.
About this Author
Mark Breslin is an author, speaker, CEO, and influencer inspiring change for workplace success across all levels of business. Mark has improved leadership, accountability, innovation, and engagement for organizations and individuals. He has spoken to more than 400,000 people and published hundreds of thousands of books on leadership and workplace culture. See his work at www.breslin.biz
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