I Am Not Your Boss

I Am Not Your Boss

Words: Corey Adams 


Hate is a strong word. It is not a word I use often, but when I do, I mean it. There is one thing I hate in the business world. It is something that most shrug off without a thought, but pierces me clear to my core. I am not talking about the standard entrepreneurial talking points. This has nothing to do with permits, inspectors, taxes, or any other regurgitated frustrations that we all have to face. No, I am talking about the term “boss.”   

We hear that term a lot on job sites. “You’re the boss!” It seems like every day someone is emphatically stating the obvious. My philosophy is simple. I may own the company, be your direct report, and sign your paychecks, but I am not your boss.   

There are plenty of internet memes that portray the differences between bosses and leaders. One that makes the rounds every month or so is the one depicting a boss sitting on a cart preaching to the labor force pulling them along. On the opposing side, the leader is pulling with his team out in front. Does this seem like an accurate illustration of what a leader can do? Is it what a leader should do? When you become responsible for other people on a jobsite, your job is not to do the work for them. It is to get the most out of the resources you have.  

Now I will agree that overbearing bosses just sit on the cart and make it harder to pull, but I do not think they should be in the trenches doing the work either. What a boss or leader should do is be a valuable resource to those he or she manages.   

A resource is what the employees need. They need someone to help them prioritize, organize, think, teach, and answer questions. A boss, or leader, should be out in front, taking obstacles away from the employees, not micro-managing how they pull the cart. Being a better boss or leader is about being what your employees need.  

When I was a superintendent, I was put on a job that was doomed from the start. The margins were short, and subs were at a premium. My job was to put out the fire. Move-in, salvage the project the best I could and make everyone happy. After weeks of negotiations, we settled on subs that we had never used, which is scary when every sub on a job is a new one.   

I kicked off the pre-construction meeting like I did every time. “I am not here to micro-manage you. We hired you because we trust you, and I am here to make sure your job is easier, and the client is happy.” This sends a little shock and tons of disbelief through the subs. You can almost feel the collective eye rolls. The thing they didn’t realize is that I meant it. The way I accomplished it was a resource to the subs. I checked in, asked how they were doing, and asked if they needed anything.   

I did this daily. If they were good, I left them alone. If they needed something, I made it a priority to get it answered, clarified, or done as quickly as possible. This fostered a relationship with the subs where I was looked at as a resource for them to get their work done, and not as the pesky super that tells them how to do their job. By the end of the job, we were back on track with our numbers, deadlines, and client satisfaction.   

I still operate in my own companies this way. I do not perceive myself like a boss, but a resource for anyone who wants it. And that is the real difference between a boss and a leader: the leader has figured out how to assist a project, and not manage it.   

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