High standards still reign supreme, but the mean-spirited Dickensian manager who issues praise sparingly but spouts like Mr. Mooney on the old “Lucy Show” whenever problems pop up seem to be becoming an endangered species. That’s probably because people won’t tolerate being needlessly browbeaten on the job anymore. (Or it could be because employees file harassment suits now.) In any case, a loutish boss who used to be called a tough old bird is now more likely to be called a horse’s ass.
These days, the best executives make it a habit to please their customers and empower their employees. They value employees like major stockholders who have a vested interest in the company’s future. Competent bosses see the big picture and judiciously balance their actions to provide the best solutions. Incompetent bosses cloud the big picture. They react to situations with shortsighted, knee-jerk solutions.
Increasingly, successful principals of electrical contracting firms tend to be friendly, big-picture type of people. Contractors develop positive working habits dealing with construction’s many-faceted big picture: Skilled-worker shortages, OSHA laws, union and/or open-shop issues, new technologies, competitive bidding, material ordering, job-site disputes, slowing economies and booming economies.
Also, unlike many corporate executives, contractors rise through the ranks to become well schooled in every grade of construction. They toil their way up from apprentice to journeyman to master electrician to owner. Usually, along the way, they also learn the fundamentals of estimating, competitive bidding, marketing and financial management. So contractors know how to do their employees’ jobs.
As complicated as electrical construction has become, its core has remained simple, straightforward and tangible. There’s little bureaucratic game-playing in the construction world because the quality of work at hand is immediate and measurable. There’s little time or space for insidious corporate back biting—or silly meetings with a bunch of fussy pale-faced suits mincing words about gimmicky promos, protocol, policy or some other corporate hoo-hah. Contractors either win or lose a project; installation quality is either good, middling, bad or indifferent.
Electrical professionals respect the contractor who’s reached the top through his or her wits and through dint of hard work. When a contractor gets mad and calls a foreman, project manager or an electrician on the carpet to chew him or her out, it’s usually for good reason: There’s time and money and livelihood on the line. On fast-track job sites, a reprimand usually happens fast and blows over quickly.
Off the job site, it’s the long-festering nastiness of life’s assistant managers that spoil things: The owner’s “daddy’s boy” son who acts tough to make his own little mark in the world; the bucking-for-promotion assistant-manager who refuses to grant a refund; the bureaucrat insurance clerk who passes the buck on our claim; the clammy state auditor who tries to tax us twice.
Friendly professionalism is probably the best way to judge every profession—auto-mechanics, plumbers, doctors, dentists and used-car salesmen. Below-average managers run on negatively charged power—and they tend to bend the least for customers and fellow workers. Above-average managers bend with the rainfall, while below average managers just get all wet. Here’s my managerial checklist:
•Above-average managers listen. They provide guidance when it’s needed and keep a distance when it’s not. (“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”) Below-average managers schedule stiff formal regular meetings that waste time and resolve nothing. •Above-average managers return their voice-mails and e-mails. Below-average managers don’t. E-mail is a great communication tool. Smart people use it often and wisely.
•Above-average managers work with their people through every step of every important project. Below-average managers wait until something goes wrong, and then jump all over their employees.
•Above-average managers question their own effectiveness and constantly strive to improve themselves. They set a standard of asking questions. Below-average managers are always right.
•Above-average managers know that productive employees thrive in a healthy, secure working environment. Below-average managers send their employees to motivational seminars or hire motivational consultants.
The good guys can see every angle of the big-picture—and can even decipher it or right it when it’s turned upside-down. When life knocks a good guy down, he comes up smiling. He knows honey catches more flies than vinegar. He knows that what goes around comes around. These days rude behavior is rightfully seen as a smoke screen for incompetence—though it could also be the result of a digestive problem.
Of course, this rant is just one man’s opinion. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you disagree.