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The Born Leader Myth

If you look at the construction industry you will find that most all of the labor and management leadership is made up of "born leaders."  These are individuals who, by the force of their personality and characteristics, have risen to lead construction companies and field operations.  These born leader types are often defined by their traits or personalities.  These leaders are usually identified by things like:

  • Hardest Worker
  • Dominant Personality
  • Charismatic
  • Commitment and Determination
  • Driver
  • Competitive Spirit
  • Dynamic Communicator

In the construction industry there is very little time, money or hard work on building leaders.  This seems to be because the is no value benefit applied to it.  However, the "born leader" myth can set a person up for certain failure.  It is unfair to put someone in a leadership role without providing them with the necessary tools for success. Asking that person to figure it out as they go along can create undo stress, cost overruns, mistakes and sometimes even more serious mistakes involving personal safety.

Think about these scenarios:

  • Do you want a born doctor operating on your child
  • Do you want a born accountant filing your business taxes
  • Do you want a born dentist drilling your teeth

It is a fair assumption the answer to the questions above are no.  If they are no, then why do you want a born construction leader running your project or your organization.

Typically field persons become foreman.  Training for most foreman is that one day you get picked up and tossed into the deep end of the pool and asked to swim.  If you can swim to the side and bring the job in, you are a foreman. It is the norm for most contractors to spend more time on purchasing a vehicle than they do in training for foreman  or supervisors or project managers. 

Many contractors today are those that worked they way up through the ranks to own and run their own companies with little or no training. Many are very successful but do they have the skills or the tools to move them into the next phase of their business.

When many of today's leaders and contractors have come up through the ranks and learned the hard way it is difficult to see the benefit in providing alternative routes.  In today's competitive marketplace contractors must begin to realize that their leaders must be refined by experience and training. When you support the "born leader" myth these are some typical business consequences:

  • Training for leadership and management is marginalized and seldom provided
  • Ego substitutes for competence
  • Standards and measures for success usually don't exist
  • Advancement can be skewed by personality vs. leadership ability
  • New leaders and managers struggle
  • Quieter prospects for leadership are overlooked
  • Born leader skill sets that are lacking are visible to all team members.  Thus the credibility of the leader and the organization are impacted.
  • Subordinates are not motivated to perform at their highest level
  • No one really reaches their full potential thus their organizations under perform. 

There is a concern that once you have spent the time and money and effort into educating someone they may leave and utilize their new found skills elsewhere. This may be true, some may leave. But it is more likely that you will have instilled loyalty in a potential long term employee.  Even if you have invested a few dollars in appropriate training, you will probably have saved more than you spent on the projects this person has been involved in. You will also be a part of setting a standard throughout the industry and within your own company.  You will attract a high level employee because of the training opportunities you support.

The construction industry is changing and the quality of the change and the ease of transition will be impacted by the quality of our leaders.