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The Law of Explosive Growth – Leadership for Contractors

Introduction to the Law of Explosive Growth


Welcome back!  I am really glad that you are joining me as we continue to take a look at John Maxwell’s best selling book – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  In these podcasts we are looking at how John’s laws can be used to build better leaders, better teams and better businesses in the construction and remodeling industries. If you are ready, let’s get started!


These leadership podcasts are tools that you can keep in your leadership toolbox to help you improve your abilities.  Learn from them – and keep them handy so that you can refer to them when the need arises.  Look for opportunities to pull out one of these leadership tools and add value to someone around you. And as you will learn in this podcast, learning the timing to pull out the tools and use them is as critical as knowing how to use the tools.  


If you are listening to these podcasts through our blog, you can actually find these same lessons as part of a free course on Construct-Ed .  The course explores all 21 laws as laid out by John Maxwell and how those laws can be used to build better team members, better crews and better companies in the construction and remodeling industries.



Have you ever felt tension?  Hello – you are part of the construction and remodeling industries!  Tension, stress, uneasiness, irritation – they are kind of the four pillars of existing in this industry.  We get so used to these types of gut feelings that we become addicted to them.  You have probably heard the buzzword “adrenaline junky”.  Well – in construction most of us become tension junkies.  When there is less tension we begin to think that there are problems.


In other words – when things work the way they are supposed to our minds trick us into thinking that something is wrong!  Talk about mind games.  


Construction and remodeling companies typically create stress and tension addicts.  Why?  Because tension exists because leaders see where projects and companies need to go and then stress about how to get the team to achieve that goal.  Projects start – and the leaders feel the pressure of where they need to get to – and stress about how to get there.  They use the stress and tension to drive them.  One big problem – the stress and tension typically wear on the physical body of the leader which leads to other problems.  


Many leaders in construction become self-fulfilling prophecies.  Their companies and positions grow based on their ability to get something done.  They are successful at leading smaller groups of people – so they are saddled with the burdens of bigger projects.  This means more things to get done and more people to lead.  They find themselves carrying more and more burden which increases their stress.  They work harder.  Tensions go up.  Before they know it, the burden has gotten so great that they are bordering on burn-out.  They are past their prime – both physically and mentally.  They find themselves doing more and more as their ranks increase.  Their skill of leading followers is ironically the cause of their downfall.  


Have you ever known someone who has been told by their doctor that their job is “killing them”?  Have you been told something similar?  Is it the actual job – or is it the burden of the people that you are leading – that is the actual cause of the tension.  


But – wait a minute!  You might be questioning – how can I grow or grow my company if I do not lead more people?  I need more members of my team!  Growth cannot happen if I stay with just me and my few guys on my team.  I need to add in order to grow.  


Additional Growth versus Exponential Growth

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I have seen cycles in business – especially in the construction and remodeling industries.  Most companies start from a very humble beginning.  A foreman or superintendent for a company gets tired of working for someone else.  An estimator or leads salesperson starts to think about doing the job for herself.  The thought about making money for themselves versus for their boss starts to creep in and they decide to strike out on their own.


They start small and humble.  The beginning involves a lot of networking – letting family and friends, their church or community organization know that they are now in business for themselves.  Contracts start to roll in and backlog builds.  Now the entrepreneur needs to hire a staff.  Some start simple and just bring in other sub-contractors.  But, eventually a staff is needed – a bookkeeper, possibly a sales team member.  Maybe an operations manager.  Regardless, the staff grows and the company owner begins to work on solving the problems facing their teams instead of working on their projects.  Let the bureaucracy begin.  


As time goes on, if the contractor is skilled and the reputation of the company is positive the demands for the company grow.  The backlog increases and opportunities appear everywhere.  The owner has a choice to make – take on more opportunities or remain small and focused.  For a whole host of reasons, the owner decides more often than not to chase more opportunities and go for growth.  


But problems begin to crop up.  This is normal.  Every project has problems that need to be addressed and overcome.  But the frequency increases and the owner finds himself or herself working on problems more than they are working on their companies.  The company begins to consume the owner.


The business reaches what I call a critical mass.  The structure that the owner established at the outset of the company can only support so much weight.  The skeleton of the company can only carry so much before it crumbles under its own weight.  The problems of the company continue to occupy the attention of the leader so much so that there is no time to work on the company and to take on opportunities.  The owner reaches burn-out and the company collapses on itself leaving the owner to pick-up the pieces and rebuild.  It becomes a bust-boom cycle that plagues many of the contracting businesses that make up the industry.  And it may not only take out the company, but it can take out the owner who started the company.  


Deploying the Law of Explosive Growth

What do you think about when you hear the word explosive?  Does it conjure up pictures of something that is out of control?  Or do you consider something that is explosive as something that can be controlled?  When demolition companies set charges for demolishing a major structure they do so in a very systematic process.


Back in 2007, Veterans Stadium – which was the home of the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles – was demolished.  The stadium was replaced by two separate stadiums – Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field.  The process of demolishing the stadium involved the planting of explosive charges in order to have a controlled demolition of the stadium.  The use of explosives created a very controlled demolition process for the stadium.


Explosive processes do not need to be processes that are out of control.  They are in fact controlled – and need to be in order to be effective.  Controlled growth is effective growth.  Growth that is out of control is cancerous and can kill and organization just as fast as stagnation.  


In John Maxwell’s book – the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – he explores Law #20 – the Law of Explosive Growth.  The law is built on the premise “to add growth, lead followers – to multiply, lead leaders”.  Applying this to contracting, to add revenues sell more work and hire more employees.  To multiply growth, focus on building yourself and your leadership core for your business and then allow them to grow your business.  


But wait, this is exactly why I left working for someone else and started my own company!  I got tired of making money for someone else and figured that I could do it for myself.  You might be concerned that if you grow leaders, you are going to give them the opportunity to learn and go out on their own.  Yes – that is a risk and it is one that you are going to have to take if you are going to grow your business.


There is an story that goes something like this – a CFO and a CEO are talking.  The CFO states to the CEO – what happens if we train our people and they leave?  The CEO responds, what happens if we don’t train them and they decide to stay?  


Business is not risk free.  We take on business not because we are afraid of risk.  On the contrary, risk is inherent in what we do.  We take on business in order to control risk and make a return for taking on the risk.  Your team is not permanent.  At any time they are capable of leaving.  Would you rather keep them and have them be a burden or create a culture where everyone lifts together.  


In order for everyone to lift together – and experience controlled explosive growth – a leader must focus on developing other leaders.  Otherwise, a leader will eventually reach critical mass and the results can be disastrous.  


Scaling a Company – The Law of Explosive Growth

I think that it is clear – in order for companies to grow and compete in the construction industry the leaders of the company must look to grow and raise up other leaders.  Adding growth is simple – hire another employee.  Multiplying growth requires that the leaders think strategically about who they are going to hire and how those team members can contribute to the growth goals of the organization.  


One of the biggest challenges for leaders who seek to lead and grow other leaders is where to find potential leaders.  They are not just standing on the street corner!  My grandfather – who was one of my closest friends growing up and who passed away when I was 17 – was a contractor.  His favorite place to pick up his crew for the next job was at the bar!  Those days are long gone – and thankfully so.  Leaders must be sought out and the process of developing them can take significant time and energy.  


In the Law of Explosive Growth John Maxwell offers an explanation of why leadership development and leading leaders is so hard.  Let’s explore how these apply to the construction and remodeling industries.


  1. Leaders are hard to find.


One of the biggest challenges that most construction firms face is the shortage of skilled labor.  There just is not enough skilled labor to go around to fill all of the needs that companies have.  As a result, companies are forced to train and grow their labor force internally.  The days of putting a simple ad in the paper and expecting a skilled mechanic to walk through the door are gone.  


As hard as finding skilled labor is, finding leaders in any walk of life is equally as hard.  Now try and find a leader – which are rare – that is involved in the construction industry – and you begin to see why there is so much time and energy that is needed to find that perfect combination of leader and construction knowledge.  


So if you are going to bring someone up through the ranks, chances are that you are going to have to groom them and grow them in-house.  Find someone who is a strong leader and teach them the technical skills behind your trade.  If someone has a strong personality and leadership potential and has strong technical skills, build their leadership skills.


  1. Leaders are hard to gather.


Have you ever heard someone say that something is like herding cats?  There was a commercial on TV for a recent Superbowl.  It was a humorous play on words where cowboys were bringing in the herd – of cats.  


Gathering leaders and their thoughts together is like herding cats.  As John points out, leaders are typically more entrepreneurial in spirit.  They see opportunities – and thanks to a bit of adult ADD – they have more of a tendency to follow it.  


But how do you hold onto those leaders?  Start by empowering them.  Recognize their strengths and put them into a position where their strengths are maximized.  More than anything – leaders want to be useful.  They want to lead others and especially themselves.  Learn to identify their strengths – sales, project management, people – and put them in a position where they will find success.  The more successful they feel, the longer they will stay with the team.  


  1. Leaders are hard to keep.


Leaders in construction are hard to keep – and success is hard to sustain without keeping them in your ranks.  Imagine having a fleet of ships in dock – and keeping each ship moving required each one to have a leader.  Without the leader, your endeavor would be severely impacted.  The trick is to create the culture within the organization that is going to make your leadership core want to stay.  


How do you create that culture?  Culture is the only unique competitive advantage that most businesses have.  It is unique because it is a blend of everything that the company does.  There is no other company in the world that has the same combination of experience, people and resources that your company has.  Design the culture that will allow leaders to rise and continue to grow.  


Closing –


Explosions do not have to be events that are out of control.  Explosive moments can be controlled if they are properly planned.  Explosive growth is not something that should be feared.  On the contrary it can be sought after and controlled.  But in order for explosive growth to occur leaders must seek to lead leaders – and allow those leaders the opportunity to lead followers.


Not every leader is ready to lead leaders. The stepping stone for leaders is to first lead followers.  As they build their skills in leadership some will rise to the level where they can lead leaders.  Remember the Law of the Process – leaders are built daily, not in a day.  Give them the opportunity to grow and build in their leadership skills.  Allow time for growth and development of their leadership toolbox.  


Thanks for taking your time to talk about the Law of Explosive Growth.  Learn to use controlled explosive growth for your business, your team’s or your department.  


The John Maxwell Team has outstanding resources for helping you develop your leadership skills.  These skills can be developed in a way that will help you in both your professional and personal lives.  I would suggest that you look at resources including the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.  You can access the online store for order these resources by going to the following link:


Click on the Products tab which will take you to the John Maxwell Team online store.  Search for the content on the site or take time to browse the online store.


Check out Construct-Ed for more training and education resources related to leadership in construction.



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