Since 2011, I have worked as a Civil Engineer, Design Manager, Project Manager, and Project Leader for Tier 1 contractors in the UK and then New Zealand. My training started with a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Nottingham and then various technical and managerial courses delivered through, or by, the companies for whom I worked. Throughout my degree, I was sponsored by one of the contractors, Laing O’Rourke, who saw me as a talented individual with a bright future and a wise investment of their time and money. I am speaking to you today because they were wrong.
The Bad Times
I was a strong academic, but a major part of the role for which I was employed was management, particularly that of cash flow, time, and people — something for which my degree provided no training nor experience. I was being thrown into the deep end to see if I could swim. I could not, and my success and confidence drowned with me. As my responsibilities grew, so did my failures. I became identified as a weak link who did not know how to fulfill his duties – which was accurate.
I blamed others for my failures. “They are micromanaging me,” I’d say or “they aren’t managing me enough” or “they aren’t communicating clearly with me,” etc. While there may have been some truth behind those claims, I was missing the fundamental problem, me.
“Because they were born with it,” seldom explains why certain people are the best at what they do. Without entering into a debate on nature vs. nurture, I would argue that, save athleticism, the best in the world are so because they had a reason to learn to be better than everyone else. Tim Ferriss, in a podcast in which he swaps stories of introversion with author Susan Cain, confers, “when the people see the finished product, it’s easy to assume that it comes from an attribute as opposed to a skill. And in fact, a lot of what appears to be natural appears only to be natural because it started off very, very unnatural, and someone has worked at chipping away at it over time.” Unknowingly, Tim is describing my story.
The Good Times
I didn’t know it then, but I lacked the skills to be effective. Skills that started very, very unnatural, but over the years, through steady chipping away, have become second nature to me. So much so I quickly ascended from a failing low-level engineer at risk of losing his job to a successful Project Leader considered by my senior executives as “a rare find who will climb very high in this industry indeed.”
Acquiring these skills was like cutting the ropes holding down a hot air balloon. Upwards I swiftly rose to where I was atop my responsibilities not beneath them. At this new altitude, I gained not just success and recognition but clarity too! One thing, in particular, became glaringly apparent to me – the majority of my colleagues also lacked the skills to be effective. Now I knew what to look for, I struggled to find anyone who had honed their skills as well as I had. Not even those holding the most senior positions, which is somewhat worse because if our leaders cannot provide effective direction, then we are all up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Throughout my company, I witnessed colleagues falling short of their potential, in many cases, suffering, thanks to ineffective practices and habits they had picked up over their professional careers. To see if I could help, I demonstrated what I had learned to a handful of interested colleagues. Some took on my teachings, and some did not. Those who did saw immediate improvements, and that’s when I understood the potential in my hands.
My projects benefited enormously from my transformation from failure to success. Imagine the impact if I could help my teammates to do the same. Or better yet, everyone in my company, or even the industry. How might this affect the issues the industry faces, such as the skills gap and missed completion dates? I had a decision to make.
The Big Decision
I had developed a set of principles and practices with which I could overcome challenges I thought were beyond me. These skills allowed me to climb to where I was very high and very fast. In a moment of reflection, taking stock of my new position, I realized that continuing to climb might take me farther from my calling in life.
I felt as though I had stepped from the top of one ladder onto a ledge on which I could take a breath, and found myself at the foot of another ladder. Upwards, stretched this new, very appealing, and sturdy ladder. One that would carry me safely to heights I had never before imagined. And, equipped with these new skills, I felt I now possessed what was necessary to climb this ladder, maybe even to the top.
But then there was the ladder off of which I had just stepped. Which led back to where I came. An old, rickety ladder. One many are struggling to climb, just as I did. But I now knew how to climb it and I could help others do the same. I could share my tools with others or help them develop their own. For some, these tools could be a booster to help them ascend the rickety ladder more quickly. For others, hanging by two fingers from a rung somewhere, these tools could be a lifesaver.
Do I keep climbing or go back and help? This was my big decision.
In my opinion, construction offers some of the most rewarding and satisfying careers available, second only to teaching and helping others. Noting this, I believed, and still believe, my most fulfilling life lies in serving those struggling. That is where I can make my most valuable contribution. So, in December 2018, I chose to go back and help.
My wife and I live with our two dogs in Nashville, TN, USA, where construction is booming! I’ve learned that the US construction industry suffers the same issues as those in the UK and New Zealand, so there are people here I can help.
For almost a year, I’ve explored alternative means through which I could transfer my principles and practices to those in the industry who need it. I was about a quarter of the way through writing a book when I came across mastermind groups, a concept introduced by Napolean Hill in his book “Think and Grow Rich,” and knew this was how I could be most impactful.
Today, I’ve completed my fourth mastermind training course, one of which was jointly developed by Tony Robbins and Dean Graziosi, and others delivered by Karyn Greenstreet of The Success Alliance. Thanks to their support, I look forward to launching my first mastermind group designed to bring together the overwhelmed and struggling members of the industry to learn what we each can do to make our lives more effective, successful, and enjoyable.
The first of The Whole Engineer’s Mastermind Groups will soon start receiving applications, so keep your ear to the ground. Until then, subscribe to my blog, where I will continue to post about anything that I believe can help elevate one’s effectiveness on the construction site.