J. Douglas Hunter
President
The Hunter Group, Inc.
Concord, Mass.

A leader must clearly define the team’s mission and work with the team to determine how goals will be met and when projects will be completed. A potential leader is organized, self-disciplined, an excellent motivator and able to keep multiple balls in the air at any given time.

To help spot these traits in a candidate, start with the adage, “messy desk, messy mind.” Does the candidate present his or her background and qualifications in an orderly and comprehensive fashion, both in writing and verbally? 

Once hired, how does the new employee’s office look? How well does he or she file and document project activities? Do job meetings have an agenda that clearly identifies objectives? Are meeting attendees engaged? Leadership training can be difficult.

I have had some luck with formal programs like Dale Carnegie, but success depends on the employee’s willingness to buy into the techniques presented during the class. I also have had some success with the mentoring model of on-the-job training.  

Denise E. Bendele
Partner
Padgett, Stratemann & Co., L.L.P.
San Antonio

In today’s business world, technical skills are as important as ever. However, unless coupled with soft skills, leaders are not as effective as they need to be.

Because people are the most important element in any business, building good relationships is key for leaders when relating to others and getting things done. Having strong communication skills means much more than writing well or feeling comfortable with public speaking. Instead, it requires being a good listener and being articulate and authentic in your words and deeds. An environment of trust and respect is founded on being approachable and friendly because team members trust and respect leaders they like—leaders who demonstrate support for others and whose words match their actions. 

To foster these skills in our leaders, the firm established a two-year character-based leadership program that takes each person on a journey to gain a deeper understanding of how to live out and build in others emotional intelligence, vulnerability, trustworthiness and integrity.

Cliff Wilson
Director of Field Operations
Benchmark Construction Company, Inc.
Brownstown, Pa.

Benchmark’s main focus of business is health care and senior living, so soft skills are very important because employees are dealing with everyone from doctors and nurses to owners of hospitals and senior living communities. We look for people who are pretty level-headed. They have to be good negotiators without being over the top. If a hospital says we’re making too much noise, our people must understand and respect that. Cooperation with clients is very important to us; employees can’t have a “my way or the highway” attitude.

Starting this year, all our superintendents sit down with apprentices for a quarterly “Plus Delta” talk that covers what they do well and areas they need to improve on—maybe they don’t arrive early enough for a warm-up period or leave tools laying around. It helps develop a tighter relationship between management and field workers.Project managers do the same thing with superintendents and upper management does it with the safety director, etc. You have to be able to listen and accept new ideas.