Sunday, July 24, 2011

9 Factors of Leadership

Continuing in my series exploring what makes a professional, I bring you these nine factors of leadership. Most recently I discussed the formation of professionalism in The Significance of Humility and Own Tools. While that one was based on my own personal experience, these nine are brought to you from my notes on a CEO presentation. Can't remember who it was because the notes are dated summer 2008, and no speaker subject is noted. I was simply going to file these away, but felt better value would be gained if instead I reflected upon them here while sharing them with you.

1. Vision - Vision is undeniably universal in the leadership discussion. The future is always uncertain. People don't like uncertainty, it triggers fear; hence, follower-ship - a prerequisite to actually being a leader - is earned through having a vision and that it not suck. Recently I was asked by a fellow who is embarking upon a new career path for some words of advice. This is what I said to him, "Learn the Biz. Figure out where it is going, and make a plan to add value in that future space. Look ahead. No stopping you." Come to think of it, I was encouraging him to develop his own vision.

2. Communication - Communication goes hand in hand with vision. The speaker placed emphasis on this factor highlighting the need to communicate your vision and the organizational priorities as frequently as possible. He also stressed the need to find different and engaging ways to communicate the same thing, so your message stays fresh and memorable. This is marketing 101: The message and the sender and the receivers of the message. It's how ad jingles end up in our heads. Here, I am reminded of how you can develop a child's taste for a new food. Introduce it on 30 different occasions. Don't take the initial 29 rejections personally. Eventually we all come around to like most of the foods our parents like.

3. Keep but a few priorities - This is never more true in this age of rapid change and constant interruption. I am a list maker. Have been for years. I do believe list making is essential to goal accomplishment; however, in my time I have come to achieve sudden death from to do lists. This is somewhat similar to analysis paralysis. In that while you are managing and prioritizing what you should do, the thing that you should do - should have already been done; and now you are in deep do do. Hence, list making if taken too far becomes a form of procrastination, a character flaw akin to greed and laziness. Let's face it, we all have far too much to do and we are far too under-resourced to accomplish all that we must do; however, we can choose to do a good job on the most important things in our sphere of control. Good leaders make good decisions about what must be done from among the clamoring noise of everything else begging to be done.

4. Relentless preparation - Note this one does not say complete preparation or perfect preparation. So, let us not confuse these with relentlessness. But before we go there, let us consider preparation. If we take preparation to simply mean planning it would not be enough. Refer to keeping a few priorities above and recalling to do list sudden death syndrome. Perfection is but another symptom for procrastination, a flaw through and through. Do not be tempted to reach for perfection or completeness in your preparations. Rather take time each day, week, and month to make plans while you are doing what you should be doing. Because, preparation is everything you do to make what you do remarkable. It is in the research and due diligence you do for the things you will do or about the people you will meet - learning what must be done to get it right, or how to respect the customs and traditions of those with whom you do business; discussing with your team ways to accomplish goals or ways to successfully interact with others. Preparation also means checking yourself in the mirror both literally and figuratively; that your fly is zipped, all belt loops looped, and no spinach on your teeth; that you have taken care to be sure that your obligations and responsibilities to others are met. Always keep in mind, your followers are watching you to see how to be. Relentlessness here is a commitment to do these things and to defend your focus to doing only those things which make you and what you do remarkable. Refer also to Calvin Coolidge's quote on persistence.

5. Conviction of belief - Beliefs are at our core. They shape our values and motivations. Formed over a lifetime, our beliefs are very hard to change. By the time we enter our 30's our beliefs are intractably in place. Yet at times we are unclear about just what it is we believe. We betray our beliefs to get something we want or to prevent something of ours from being taken. People are not stupid, once we betray our beliefs we betray their trust, and so goes their follower-ship. So what do we do with this? We must become convinced our beliefs are worth defending, because there is precious little we can do to change them and a great deal we can accomplish by accepting them.

6. Willingness to take risk - Nothing ventured nothing gained should be a proverb. Yet we so often ascribe to the idea, "I will try that when I..." fill in the blank. Usually financial security fits here, but it could also be an emotional trigger such as, "I'll wear that when I lose a few more pounds". Only most of us never loose the weight or get better off. We play it safe and never live the dream while getting fatter and deeper in debt along the way. The point is, if something you believe is worth striving for above all other options, go for it. Fact of the matter financial and emotional security are tenuous at best, things easily lost once attained. Besides, even if you start out with the bank roll or with the hot bod, events can and will conspire to take away what you've got anyway. Point is no matter whether you win or lose by taking risk, you will be engaged in something worth fighting for. You will be doing something you love, and for some reason this never feels like work.

7. Optimism - Optimism is the mother's milk for your followers. Mother's milk contains special antibodies to protect baby from harmful diseases, immunity is imparted though the milk. Just as these antibodies transfer immunity from mother to child, so does your optimism transfer immunity from all the environmental negativity to your followers. And there is always negativity; hence, optimism is a choice in the face of a difficult reality. As a leader, you are contagious. You infect others with your disease. Make it a good virus. Make it optimism.

8. Stewardship of others' resources - Under the file taking care, leaders are blessed with follower-ship. That is the people in your organisation give you permission to lead. They give you their time talent and treasure with the expectation that you will not waste them. They do this contingent upon the benefits associated with your tenure. Trust is the principal attribute in this transaction. Trust is granted so long as you set realistic expectations (refer to vision and communication), and take care to meet them (refer to keeping few priorities relentless preparation).

9. Passion - Leaders are a bridge to a vision. They carry followers over to a preferred reality. It must be a reality for which you are willing to stake the time of your life. There must be something about your vision which stimulates your emotion, energy, and personal power. Because if what you are seeking does not get you excited, how can your followers be expected to get motivated just the same?

What do you think about these 9 factors of leadership?

Thanks for reading and Happy Tiling!

Monday, July 18, 2011

TEC Specialty Unveils its Big Tile Mortar

For those of you in love with big tiles, and the tiles just seem to get bigger and bigger, TEC Specialty has just launched its Ultimate Large Tile Mortar.

Big tiles mean big installation challenges
If you’ve installed large format tiles, you know how difficult and time-consuming it can be. Before now, there was no single solution that addressed the multiple challenges faced by installers:
1. Slumping on Floors: Large, heavy tiles on floors slump in mortar, creating unevenness or lippage across the installation and can cause a tripping hazard
2. Slipping on Walls: Tiles on walls can slip unless mechanically held in place, creating extra labor steps, wasting time and costing money
3. Lack of full transfer: Tiles need 100% mortar coverage to avoid hollow spots and bond failures

TEC Ultimate Large Tile Mortar solves any large tile challenge in one solution. Saving you time and money. Click (here) for the dope sheet.

We look forward to using this product on our next Big-Tile tile job.

Happy Tiling!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Working with a LOTC

In this blog I have mentioned the Low-Overhead-Trade-Contractor (keyword LOTC in the Tagcloud), a term I coined to represent a broad population of construction services businesses such as my company, MidWest Mosaic of Toledo, Ohio. This is a story about George, a LOTC with whom I recently collaborated on a project. I provide it to give you perspective into the LOTC reality, a topic about which not so much is written. But first a little background on industry structure and then on to George.

Construction services, you see, is very local, an excellent example of a highly fractured marketplace. Large consolidated businesses - such as the infamous “no-bid” Halliburton (HAL) or the homebuilding giant Pulte (PHM) - are the exception. In fact, the everyday large construction firm is comparatively small-to-middling with respect to these large publicly traded businesses. A check of US Census data tells us that over 75% of the 330,000 plus construction contractor businesses have 10 or fewer employees, suggesting much of the construction work put-in-place in the US is put-in-place by LOTC’s. LOTC’s can be found performing the work of large organizations, even in the Halliburton/Pulte complexes, due to the ease with which work is subcontracted. The reality is, the bigger the firm gets, the less work is performed in-house; hence, the more the firm relies upon LOTC’s. But this is an idea to explore in future posts.

Now back to George.

George is a professional tiler. He enjoys laying tile and sharing his craft with clients and fellow LOTC’s alike. George appreciates their unsolicited comments that, “he does good work.” He hears this often. Upon our first meeting, George represented to me that he is among the best tilers in his town. Having worked with him, I can attest that he is indeed highly effective among the tilers with whom I had the pleasure to work over my 20+ year career. George is fast and clean – a desirable combination for a tile installer. His workmanship is both flat and true – universally appreciated qualities.

In addition to his exceptional trade skills, George demonstrated superior customer facing skills. When on the job, we were working in an ongoing retail environment (we were the noise behind the plywood dust enclosure). The tenant complained about the noise from our saws. He asked us to shut down our cutting operations and reserve noisy work for off-hours. While tile cutting can be disruptive, it is integral to the work process. One cannot just stop it without making extraordinary accommodations. Besides offering no options, the tenant’s request threatened our customer’s budget goals and schedule commitments; hence, jeopardizing the profitability of our work as well as the continuing patronage of our client. A lot was at stake. Still, George subverted our worries to the tenant’s needs by offering a reasonable alternative. George’s cool head and customer awareness saved the day.

All the while, George and I grew in our mutual respect and trust for each other as we discussed the subtle nuances of the tile trade. It’s amazing how so many pass themselves off as competent tilers yet fall short. It’s all about the provenance of the tiler. Are they masons who specialize in tiling or are they floor layers who count tiling among their capabilities? The distinction is important, especially when you consider where tile is typically utilized in conjunction with the expected quality and performance characteristics of the work. Tile may be a flooring choice, but you would never expect to see carpet in a shower, nor would you expect its lie to be flat and true conveying water from high to low. With tile there is more beneath the surface, and simply being capable of combing a notch and dealing the squares as if they are some common VCT (Vinyl Composite Tile) does not a tiler make.

Finally, when we had completed the job and were quite exhausted having met our goals and commitments, George took responsibility for jobsite cleanup above and beyond what is customarily expected. This little detail at the end is a difference maker. It said to our client, “we absolutely want your continued business”.

George’s business organization is straightforward. He is its sole proprietor, the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. His principal hard assets are his tools and equipment, of which his full-sized work truck comprises the majority of his business capitalization; however, his most prized asset is his word, an intangible asset. I have no doubt that George’s word is far more binding than Halliburton’s. One only need look to Halliburton’s slippery escape from BP’s Deep Water Horizon fiasco. The irony here is Halliburton’s intangibles – in its name and reputation – are transferrable, making up a significant portion of HAL’s share value; whereas a LOTC’s word, while more precious, is non-transferrable, as illiquid as a mortgage backed security. Go figure.

George has a simple approach to business: Do really good work at the market price to earn the continued patronage of his clients and their referrals – all the while accepting what remains after his expenses. George does not own a computer. Moreover, he does not keep up a regular bank account. Essentially, his back pocket is his all-in-one banking and bookkeeping package. You see, George is disinterested in the numbers side of the business; naturally, he wants to focus on doing his craft. Lest we forget that accounting and bookkeeping, while immensely useful, are not prerequisites for actually doing something. Besides, LOTC’s come to be through their skill at building, not through accounting or management acumen.

While this may surprise the more marketing and management minded among you, the proof is in George’s outcome. Like so many LOTC’s, George’s effort has provided a simple yet wholesome lifestyle for his family, with whom he holds a steadfast commitment. And, up until recently, his lifestyle was on a growth trajectory – following a long standing bullish trend in the housing sector.

Unfortunately, his business model, like so many others, imploded with the housing bubble. Pre-bubble, his backlog of projects extended out for weeks, sometimes months. George used to name his price and even turn away work (usually smaller or messier jobs). Now his deal flow is spotty; his usual customers (principally home builders) are slow or no longer in business, while prices-paid are what they were 20-25 years ago. He is no longer turning away the small and messy jobs. The slow flow and low pay make it increasingly difficult for George to spend less than he takes in. His business provides the bare minimum for his home while his tooling and equipment suffer. As we write this, rising gas prices are limiting his ability to operate his vehicle.

As a LOTC hungry for work, George finds himself at a crossroads—he can continue to struggle through as is or he can change what he is doing and perhaps find a better way to get through. George and I agree a subtle shift in his marketing approach may be all he needs to improve his deal flow; improved prices-paid follows deal flow. I can offer him help because George trusts me. He knows that as a fellow LOTC, I have faced and continue to face dilemmas like these.

I choose to put these in writing.

On the Musings blog we talk about a wide range of topics useful for LOTC’s, from Marketing to Women to exploring How Prevailing Wages Hinder our ability to Create Jobs. Just enter a search in the search box or scan the Tagcloud. Here, we have a place to share successes overcoming business problems as well as failures arising from others. It is a place where we can share what we are doing and what we are thinking about doing, all in a friendly helpful way.

All of this information is available free of charge.

Take the best and leave the rest.

If you know a George or a Georgia who might benefit from our thoughts, please share this blog with them. And if there is something we’re not talking about that would be helpful for George and other LOTC’s, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Happy tiling!


Friday, July 1, 2011

New Project Award: The Locker

Mosaic just received a contract for tilework from a local general contractor. The scope of work includes approximately 1300 square feet of 8" x 8" porcelain tile on the floor of a locker room at an undisclosed location, hence the name of the project. Two colors will be used in a diagonal pattern. Photos to follow under the tag, "the locker". With this award, Mosaic gains 14 workdays for its workforce.