Newsletter: September 2004

Good Leadership Can Be Taught - Up To A Point
By John Kreiss, President, SullivanKreiss

Those of us who run our own businesses or business units give plenty of thought to leadership issues. When you reach an upper management position, your most important contributions to your firm are the decisions you make and the guidance you give to your subordinates. I've been devoting more attention, as my firm has grown over the past few months, to the type of leadership I want to provide.

Leadership styles vary greatly from person to person, and while some leadership qualities are innate, anybody who aspires to a leadership role can improve their skills in other leadership areas. My friend and former colleague, Kathryn Sprankle, who has consulted with AEC firms for many years and advises clients on management and business planning issues, says there are several important leadership traits that can't be taught: ambition, drive, passion for the

industry, and persistent optimism. But, Kathryn, who now runs San Francisco-based Sprankle Leadership, believes other leadership skills such as organization, interpersonal communication, and presentation can be improved with coaching.In fact, she says, a lot of firms are offering one-on-one coaching to managers as an added benefit. Because most firms today require principals to provide business leadership, not just technical guidance, employees who aspire to upper management positions value such programs, and firms find them useful as an employee retention strategy.

Having an outsider's perspective on tricky management issues can be extremely valuable. I've augmented my leadership strategy and skills by working with an outside coach, Elizabeth McAloon, of The McAloon Group ( Elizabeth cites these areas in which coaching can help AEC leaders:

  • Maximizing and leveraging strengths of emerging stars
  • Enhancing communication between management, staff, and teams as well as clients
  • Using coaching tools to generate greater ownership and responsibility at all levels of the organization
  • Helping individuals recognize ways to increase their range beyond their previously assumed limitations
  • Aligning individual and team performance with organizational goals and vision
  • Fostering creative thinking that keeps the organization fresh and moving ahead of the competition

I've also found Elizabeth's advice on balancing work and life issues - a major challenge for business owners-to be invaluable. Typically, coaching takes place in four-month to two-plus-year engagements. Often, this consists of two or three 45-minute phone conversations per month. For coaching to work, it's important for the "coachee" to be motivated to be self-analytical and willing to adjust his or her leadership style. And he or she must have good chemistry with the coach. "Coaching is about the coach asking the right questions, drawing out the answers from the client," Elizabeth says. "The client knows their business better than anyone-the coach's job is to create the right environment to enable the client to come to their own conclusions."

Here's an example of how a coach can help with leadership issues from Elizabeth's experience:
A client was a very talented, driven leader, but with an overwhelming communication style. His daunting physical presence, coupled with his dominating communication style, was limiting his ability to motivate his team. He recognized that he needed to expand his range as a communicator and motivator. Through a series of exercises, discussions, and coaching sessions, he has greatly expanded his repertoire, has developed relationships with previously estranged employees, and expanded his company's reach to a broader scope of customers. This has resulted in great productivity and respect from staff, and opened some doors for business with new clients.

Many times, upper management provides the impetus for a promising mid-level manager to receive leadership coaching. "How you approach a person about the need for training/coaching is critical," Kathryn says. It must be viewed as an everything-to-gain, nothing-to-lose proposition. The coachee should have trust in the coach and not worry about what the coach says to management.

Although coaches frequently work on interpersonal skills, they do so on a practical level. "This is not highly touchy, feely stuff," Kathryn says. The advice or guidance tends to be down-to-earth and somewhat specific. Personally, I've learned some valuable time management tips, and have developed a better appreciation of the importance of delegating tasks. In my experience, coaching is definitely worth the time and money.

Reader response to foreign outsourcing article:

Thanks to all who responded to last month's article on foreign outsourcing. I received several notes from readers expressing concern over how this trend could damage the U.S. AEC industry. I share those concerns and will be watching how this trend impacts our business and our clients' business. Please keep those emails coming. - J.K.

Hot Candidates

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Director of Construction
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Candidate has 20 years of experience as an Electrical Engineer. Experience in designing low voltage systems and power lighting, fire alarm/detection and suppression release systems, electrical construction, and code interpretations. Currently, based in Washington, D.C., he is upgrading central energy and designing electrical blue prints for operating rooms in an area Hospital. Salary is $100K.

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Candidate has 25 years of experience, mainly working on large-scale Educational andHealthcare Facility projects. Ideally, this candidate is looking to work in Project Development/Construction Management for a real estate company or for a major institution. This candidate is located south of Boston, and his current salary is $125K.

Located in the Boston area, this candidate has over 20 years of experience. This candidate has worked as a Project Manager as well as a Construction Administrator on multiple large-scale educational and healthcare facilities. Salary is currently in the $75K range.

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Kim McLean

What do you think? Let us know.

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edited by Peter Fabris,