Contractor Tip Of The Month: Making Difficult Decisions

Contractor Tip Of The Month: Making Difficult Decisions

Damian Lang

Humility has no place when you decide who to hire, who to promote, and who to let go of. To be successful, managers and owners must approach these decisions boldly.

I experienced this fact when I recently made one of the most important staffing decisions of my life. I brought Mark Allen on board as chief operations officer (COO) at Watertown Enterprises. 

Whom did he replace? Me. The hardest part of making this decision was the thought of letting go of the direct day-to-day correspondence with the team leaders I have worked with for so many years. 

In his book “Straight From the Gut,” the late Jack Welch reminds leaders they must have the courage to change managers when there is an opportunity to upgrade critical positions, even if things look “okay.” 

Just as important, Welch says these decisions must be thoughtful and forward-looking because no one should be in a leadership position if they enjoy firing someone, nor should they be if they do not dare to let go of underperformers.    

This advice struck home when I worked on my decision to replace myself as COO. As the new COO, Mark will manage our six companies’ day-to-day operations, leaving me with more time to focus on my role as chief executive officer (CEO).  

Mark and I recently toured our plants, warehouses, and construction facilities. I introduced him to the leaders who drive our operations. I let our team know that Mark will be driving the bus while I will be out in front, charting the route and removing roadblocks to ensure he can keep the bus moving toward our goals.  

Mark has managed companies much larger than ours, so he has been where we want to go. The most self-aware aspect of my decision process was facing the fact that Mark is positioned to do a better job managing the operations at this time in our growth plan than I can. It is a hard pill to swallow, but I know it is true.

Over my 36 years of owning and managing companies, I have learned that all problems are people’s problems. For example, a forklift does not stay out late getting drunk then show up late for work the following day. When you put the machine in gear, it does not have any emotions or opinions on whether it wants to go outside and pick up a cube of block in the cold rain. The machine just does what the operator controls it to do. 

As Jack Welch says, it is essential to be bold and make the tough decision on who is in control. Although my track record is pretty good at making the right decisions about who should lead our teams, I have made my share of mistakes along the way. Errors, however, are only fatal if they are not corrected. 

The key to being bold is that once you decide, it clears your mind of any confusion and allows you to move forward. When I came to grips with my decision to hire a COO, I moved quickly and started the people process I use in all my actions. 

The most crucial role of any leader is getting the right people in the bus’ right seats. The process I use to make people decisions includes these principles:

  • Remove your emotions and be honest with yourself about who the right person is.  
  • Promote and hire people based on what they do and not who they are or who they know.
  • Select people who are honest and trustworthy. 
  • Focus on people who have good judgment and make the best decisions for the team without considering personal interests. 
  • Choose people with the ability and skills to take action.
  • Do not make people’s decisions in the middle of an argument or after someone just made a mistake; that would be kicking someone when they are down. 
  • Make the right decision regardless of what people think or feel you should do. 
  • Do it now; procrastinating only makes the decision harder. 

When I am faced with making the most difficult decisions, I give myself only two options:

  1. Make the decision and move on. 
  2. Step down as CEO.

With no desire to step down as CEO anytime soon, I am left with only one option: decide and move on. 

One of the hardest things about being a leader, or choosing the right leader, is possessing the ability to get results while ensuring team members are working in harmony with each other. Teams must all be on the same page while pulling in the same direction. 

If a leader is getting results without everyone on the same page, wins will only be short-lived, as the wheels will come off the bus somewhere down the road.    

Do you have difficult decisions that need to be made? If so, what are you waiting for? Your future growth lies between where you are now and the decisions you make to move forward.  

Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Buckeye Construction and Restoration, Malta Dynamics Fall Protection and Safety Company, Three Promise Labor Services, and EZG Manufacturing. Combined sales at the companies will exceed $125 million in 2021. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites safer and more efficient, visit his websites at or To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email, or call 740-749-3512.

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