I had an opportunity to discuss leadership over a couple of beers with one of our team members. We were hashing out a difficult project when he shared a quote that had recently become popular on social media. It is from the post-apocalyptic novel Those Who Remain by G. Michael Hopf:
“Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”
The quote really resonated with me because I can relate it to the situation we are facing at our general contracting (GC) company. We are building a $31 million school that has been shut down for months due to soil issues.
This has caused a lot of profit fade and chaos. Inflation, material prices, and sub pricing are at all-time highs – prices that escalated after the project started. This puts us in a position where we need the customer to extend the finish date of the project and help pay the inflated costs the delay has caused. Tensions are high on both sides of the table.
We have had some tough conversations with all the parties to get the job up and going again. I must say, I am amazed at the way our GC division leader, project manager, and his team have navigated through the situation in the hardest of times.
They have stayed the course and taken shots for our company to resolve the problem. We are lucky to have these strong leaders on our team. As the CEO, I not only support them, but I have been personally involved. I want the team to understand that I recognize this is our problem. I have been through challenging times before and I do not expect them to go it alone.
As my friend Charlie Murren would say, “As contractors, we are gamblers that never get to shuffle, cut, or deal the cards. Instead, we must play the hand dealt to us by our customers.
This also takes me back to many years ago when I was on a job site having an intense conversation with a customer who boldly asked me if I knew the golden rule. Before I could reply, he shouted, “The one who has the gold, rules.”
In no uncertain terms, he let me know that he held the purse strings and if I did not comply and do things his way, he would withhold the gold. It only took a few seconds for this lesson to sink in. I walked out of the job trailer with my tail between my legs, knowing I must give him exactly what he expected, or I would pay the consequences. It was a tough lesson for me at a young age, and I find myself in a similar situation with this school project.
To their credit, our GC team is playing the cards we were dealt the best they can. Our leadership skills have been challenged and we are using muscles we have never used before. Overall, this contract has forced us to be resourceful. When we come out on the other side, we will be a stronger, better company with stronger, better leaders.
We will someday reflect on this event and recognize it as a marked moment of growth for our leaders. That moment is not today. But it will come.
Right now, we are still enduring the growing pains of getting through these hard times. However, our goal remains unchanged — finish the job with a happy customer. Our client has been thrown some hard balls, and as a result, so have we. Our ability to manage the difficult circumstances that are beyond our control is the biggest challenge of all. Luckily, we have strong leaders at the helm.
These leaders have spent their time in the trenches and have learned hard lessons in the process. This has armed them with the experience to work through difficult situations such as the school shut down.
Leadership is not a title you have or a badge you wear. Simply being in a leadership position does not mean you are a good leader. As the CEO, I am the leader of our companies. But my leadership depends upon my ability to build a strong team and inspire people to stay strong during the darkest of times.
Do you have leaders in place who can weather tough times? The future of your organization depends on the leaders you have in place today. Ask yourself these questions about them:
- Are you allowing them to help shoulder some of your difficult challenges today, to build the muscles they will need in tough times?
- Are they strong enough to carry the company through the hard times that will inevitably come your way?
Do not wait until you are on a sinking ship before you realize that you do not have the team you need. You must develop them now before the tough times come. With the right team in place, you can re-write Hopf’s quote:
“Hard times create strong leaders, strong leaders create good times, good times create weak leaders, and weak leaders create hard times.”