Mark Skaer

We can all agree that it would be crazy for a head football coach - at any level - to coach a team from afar, right? Think about it.

It would not make sense for a professional head coach, for instance, to sit in the press box and pass along guidance via a walkie-talkie to his assistants on the sideline. This setup is bound for disaster. The quarterback, offensive line, running backs, defensive squad, and all who man a helmet seek instant feedback when they step off the field during a game. If the head coach is upstairs with a headset on talking to an assistant, who is going to supply the instant feedback on why a play did - or did not - work?

Imagine the assistant coaches taking on this role. While it might have some positive effect, is it really the same?

OK, I’ll answer that (and emphatically): “N-o!”


When it comes to leading a football team, the head coach needs to be on the sidelines. The same can be said of an owner of a contracting business. He - or she - needs to lead the company. Not from afar, either. He needs to be on the front line, if need be, supplying the encouragement, needed guidance, and/or answering all questions from employees.

In order to get results, the owner must, as consultant Mike Treas put it, “foster the energy, commitment, and fortitude it takes to get there.”

“Whether you believe that people are born leaders or not, fact is that no one can just step into the leadership role without earning it,” said Treas, who has worked with hundreds of contracting professionals all across the United States and Canada.

For some reason, many owners don’t want to manage their companies any more. They want to hire a general manager or a sales manager to do their job, to be the leader. Treas will attest to this, too. He has had “way too many conversations this summer” with business owners who want to bail out.

“What they are missing is that they have to be the leader first!” said Treas. “By taking control, teaching what they know, sharing their experiences, knowledge, skills, and ability - the owner is that leader. Lead your entire organization to success as their leader, their business and spiritual guide, their Dalai Lama, their Big Toe and they will follow.”


If employees see an owner trying to find someone else to do his job because he wants to get out, what precedent does that set? Most of all, what does it tell them about the owner’s commitment to them?

“Their job description can be summed up on that one word: leader,” he told me. “They are the leader of many. They look to the owner to answer the hard questions. They trust that the owner will bail them out in the hard times. Trust. They trust that the owner will run the company based on ethics with integrity and character. Employees need someone they can trust.”

In other words, if you are the head coach, then act like it. If you want one of your assistant coaches to become the leader, then teach them the way. Treas put it best: “Leadership is a journey that needs a guide. Be that guide.”

Bottom line is this: If you are tired of running a contracting business and want someone else to do the job, get ready for a process that may take years to complete. As Treas will tell you, developing a leader takes patience “and you may have to go through several, if not many, candidates before you discover the one perfect individual that will take your organization to the destination you envision.”

An owner might have that special person already in the business. Or, he might find himself having to do some serious recruiting. In either case, one should lead a company until the leader has personally taught, coached, or mentored the right person to follow in his footsteps.

“Long days, lots of smiles, and pats on the back will be required,” reminded Treas.

So, if you want to grow your business, grow your people. And, if you want a superstar to take your organization to the top, then lead them there.

Publication date:09/08/2008