Leading from behind

Apr 01, 2019

Even if you’re at the lower rungs of the org chart, there are plenty of opportunities for meaningful acts of leadership.

Navigating the first years in a workplace can sometimes feel like binge-watching a season of Game of Thrones. If you don’t keep up with the popular fantasy drama, let’s just say there are a lot of casting changes, confusion, conflict, and the occasional fire-breathing dragon. Same thing with a new job: Who is that new person? What’s their role? Will I report to them in some way? Why is that intern better than me at that task? Tom took another job?

With constant changes happening in the workplace, it can be hard for a young employee to find their voice – or even the project accounting department. But there are certainly things a young employee can do, like first learning about the firm’s leadership culture. I’m not saying someone has to emulate every principal they meet, but they should at least try to understand the tenets their success was built upon. You’ll find out they weren’t always the leaders they are today and that they found their own opportunities to lead along the way. Here are some opportunities that almost anyone in today’s AEC industry will run across:

  • Working with a remote team. We’re more connected than ever and developing the skills to work independently or with a remote team is an area where younger professionals can lead by example. Keeping up with long-distance relationships is often easier than keeping up with our neighbors these days.
  • Leadership out of the office. How often do your leaders travel? If the answer is often, then you have a great opportunity to lead the pack from behind. Take advantage of your time in the office with your peers and make sure your home base is pointed in the right direction. Help bridge the gaps between the leaders who don’t have their eyes on the day-to-day operations in the office.
  • How should I communicate with you? I ask this of every new client and employee. Being comfortable with a variety of communication styles is something we all need to be better at in our current society. Text messaging and messages sent via social media platforms are becoming the standard for getting the attention of the largest generations in the workforce. I personally don’t think anything will replace the impact of picking up the phone and having a conversation with someone. Regardless of your preferred mode, the most important thing is to be responsive. Don’t wait to answer an easy request or wait to reply until everything is accomplished. Communicate your intentions to complete their request and provide some time expectations for completion.
  • Earn it. I’m uncomfortable not being at the office early each day. Making the first pot of coffee has become a reflex at this point. You never know who this helps out, but seeing an empty pot at the end of the day means it saved somebody a few minutes. Growing up in the '90s, one of my favorite leaders to watch in action was Michael Jordan. What you didn’t see on TV back then was the amount of additional time he spent practicing at home before and after the Bulls regularly scheduled practices. Eventually, Scottie Pippen joined him for the extra work, and then Steve Kerr, and then most of the team (probably not Dennis Rodman). Jordan recruited his entire team to work harder just by setting an example of what it takes to be the best. He sums it up pretty well with one of my favorite quotes, “Earn your leadership every day.”

Sometimes what makes a strong leader is not what they do, but when they do it. Take a few moments to reflect on how and when you can find an opportunity to lead through small actions every day. If you are already a leader at your firm, find time to encourage these actions from the younger generations. They are the future but won’t get there alone.

Chad Coldiron is the director of executive search at Zweig Group. He can be reached at ccoldiron@zweiggroup.com or 479.856.6260.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.