Attitude Reflects Leadership

Every now and then I need to step away from the emails and the phone and remind myself that the person who is currently making me go apoplectic might have something going on other than idiocracy.

Atomic Bomb Explosion

The culture of any firm has a significant impact on how the people of that firm behave. The phrase “attitude reflects leadership” comes to mind whenever the subject is brought up. More times than not, the reason this subject comes up because someone is trying to cover their butt rather than solve whatever issue is at hand.

Let me go on record and state that I am not a fan of butt covering. That’s right, I am anti-butt-covering.

I am extremely fortunate because nine times out of ten I get to work with skilled contractors who are diligent in their duties and thoughtful about how they go about running their business. It’s that 10th contractor that gives me fits, but as I mentioned, attitude reflects leadership and there are times when you have to remind yourself that the person you are dealing with might simply be doing what they were told.

Take a deep breath.

Walk away from the email.

Don’t send that text … probably shouldn’t write a post about it either.

Too late.

It’s your behavior in these moments matters because how you handle yourself will be remembered for far longer than whatever issue is currently in the limelight. I wrote a post a few years ago – Your Behavior Matters – and it is one of the better posts I’ve written, and I can attest to the fact that the lesson I learned from that experience was probably the best lesson I’ve ever learned. (you can also see/hear me tell this story here).

When I have a problem, my first inclination isn’t to think “What’s my exposure here?” I don’t immediately dive into my emails so that I can prove that I did what I was supposed to do and this was someone else’s fault, and therefore as a result, their problem. While I am saying ” I ” a lot, I don’t think this is the inclination of anyone in my office either. We have a culture of collaboration and support in our office and we try and work towards a solution rather than spending energy covering our butt. Most days I feel collaborative, but I had a moment the other day where my business partner tried to talk me down off the ledge … I wasn’t up there to jump, but rather to push somebody else off.

I had received an email (that had other people copied in – a favorite move of butt coverer’s the world over) from a site-superintendant who said that the electricians missed an outlet where a disposal was to be installed, but since my drawings didn’t show the necessary outlet, it wasn’t their fault. Since I am responsible for the drawings, and I am unaware of any household disposals that don’t require power, this was clearly my fault. However, since I am not a “reply-to-all” sort of person, I sent a scathing text message to the project manager. I basically told him that since the clients are paying for project supervision, if I draw in a disposal, and fail to show the prerequisite power outlet, that they need to “do your f-ing job and actually supervise the project!

But I didn’t say “F-ing” … I said (texted) the whole ‘F’ word.

That was a first for me. In 25-years I have never said that word to a contractor. I was really mad and I immediately felt shame and remorse. I rarely use curse words when talking to contractors because I think it’s rude and counterproductive. The truth is that I didn’t show any power to the disposal … but the crazy part is that I also didn’t show a disposal. What?! That’s right. The client asked for this additional disposal during construction so I sent an email to the contractor asking if we could still add a disposal, or was it too late? He confirmed that we could and I considered the matter complete. So they remembered the disposal but not the power to that disposal, and the site superintendent never coordinated this scope with the electricians. Fast forward 12 months and it’s my fault for not drawing in an electrical outlet.

I behaved shamefully, but all the site superintendent needed to say was “We need an outlet here and there isn’t one. Here are your options. How would you like to handle it?” I get that people make mistakes, they might not even know it’s their mistake, but in this instance, the first gut reaction was to cover their butt. Why?

Does their attitude reflect leadership? Maybe. For all I know, the site superintendent has marching orders to do exactly what he did, or maybe he’s simply frustrated about something else – maybe he’s not getting the support he needs to do what needs to be done and he’s killing himself just to get where we’re at. I know this guy, at least professionally, and he is a decent and conscientious person who probably didn’t deserve my telepathic wrath.

I’m sure there isn’t an architect walking the planet who doesn’t have some sort of similar story … it comes with the territory. I don’t want the people who work with me to behave in this manner, and I don’t want the contractors I work with to behave in this manner. So what’s the takeaway here? Getting mad isn’t the problem. How you handle yourself is what matters. Don’t make your first move be about putting yourself on the attack by creating a defensible position. We all have the same goal and my experience is that nine times out of ten, most issues are fairly easy to resolve. If you handle that tenth one correctly, that relationship will fundamentally shift and that contractor will become one of the nine.

I’ll leave you with two quotes – one of them is probably appropriate for today:

The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.

J. Paul Getty

Check yo self before you wreck yo self

Ice Cube

Thanks for the soapbox. Regular posts will resume tomorrow.

Bob signature FAIA

Source: Life of an Architect