Things firm leaders must do

Apr 21, 2024

At some point leadership has to take action and act like leaders versus just talk a good game.

There’s a lot that has been written about the qualities of effective leaders in the AEC business. I have written plenty about it myself. We can talk about these qualities of leaders all day but ultimately, it really comes down to action – it’s what firm leaders DO that matters.

Here are a few things that are absolute musts for leaders to do as far as I am concerned:

  • Get to know your people. As a leader, you need to have a personal relationship with every single person who works for you, as well as many who aren’t your direct reports. That takes time and energy. You need texting, phone calls, coffees, lunches, after work beers, and plenty of casual time together to make it happen. It also takes curiosity. When you ask people questions about themselves and their families and listen to what they tell you, it shows care and concern and builds trust. In the “old days” when I was starting out, there was a school of thought that said you shouldn’t be friends with your employees. I have always thought that was bad thinking and still do. Real friends want to help you out. They don’t want to sabotage you. They look out for you. And they defend you. Wouldn’t you rather have employees who think this way than those who don’t care about you? I know I would.
  • Project energy and optimism – always. Leaders have to be positive. They must always have a plan – something the organization can do – to make things better. They cannot publicly despair and act as if there are no options to overcome whatever the challenge is that the organization is facing, or nothing that can be done to fix whatever the problem is. It cannot be false confidence, either. It has to come from inside the leader, and it is based on experience that the leader has had that he or she can communicate effectively to all members of their team.
  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Effective leaders are not “one and done” communicators. They constantly repeat and restate in different ways what they feel is essential for everyone on their team to understand. A popular cliché I see overused today is that leaders are good “story tellers.” They have a way of making people understand what can be done and what has to be done through stories. Good leaders are also speedy communicators. They don’t hold back on sharing information that needs to be shared and get it out there quickly. And they are good writers. One tactic I encourage firm leaders to do is to put a weekly memo together for all employees that tells them what is happening in the company and where it is going. The discipline of doing this every single week without fail helps keep everyone’s priorities crystal clear and their heads on straight.
  • Sell the vision of the promised land. Good leaders are effective sales people. Most importantly, they can sell their own people on what the promised land looks like and how doing what it takes to get there is going to benefit them personally. I think a lot of ineffective leaders assume that everyone who works for them understands this (that if the company does well, they will do well). In my experience, many employees don’t get this. They don’t all have the perspective and they don’t all have trust in management (because of past experiences) that they will share in the rewards for the organization’s success. You need to demonstrate that this linkage is real and not B.S. through making examples out of people who are advancing your goals.
  • Set the pace and be a positive example for any and all behaviors you want out of your people. You want people to be responsive 24 hours a day – show that you are. You want people who help the other guy or gal when they need it – jump in and help! You want people who go the extra yard to demonstrate excellence – do it yourself. Effective leaders always use “do as I do” versus “do as I say,” because they know it is the only way to be a real leader.
  • Be resourceful! Effective leaders can pull a rabbit out of their hat every once in a while. That means they find the capital when new capital is needed. They sell the project when a new project is essential. They make an unhappy client happy because they figure out what they are unhappy about and fix the problem. That takes a “can-do” attitude and willingness to confront what has to be confronted, and never giving up! Scrappiness – for lack of a better word – is the hallmark of good leadership!

When leaders don’t do these things, the organization suffers. Growth can stall and morale will decline. At some point leadership has to act like leaders versus just talk a good game. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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.