Why Most of Your Projects Suck and How to Un-Suck Them

July 26, 2017

Tracey Kidder said, “Building is the quintessential act of civilization.”  Think about it.  If three people washed up on a deserted island, the first thing they would do is collaboratively build a shelter.  Unless, of course, the three people were an architect, owner’s rep, and contractor.  Then, they would have to wait for two lawyers to wash up on the beach so that they could proceed with the project.

There is a project that I read about recently where the parties involved hate each other. I don’t say that lightly.  You can tell from their comments that they truly loathe and despise each other.  Here is a link to the ENR article titled  A Hospital Job Dispute Reaches Fever Pitch:


How did this project get to this point?  Could the parties involved have seen this coming?  How did they begin the project, and more importantly, what can you do on your projects to avoid such a fate? There is a link to a white paper and other resources at the end of this blog, but here is a recap:

Step 1: Get as many people involved in the process as soon as possible from owners to facilities folks to end users designers to contractors to trade partners to materials vendors. Get them in a big room.  Build a sense of team and trust and collaboration.  Note:  This cannot be done in a day.  One day “partnering” sessions are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Lean, IPD, ILPD Design-Build, and other collaborative project delivery methods are perfect for having a framework to achieve this.  Forget IPD-ish.  Just do it!

Step 2:  Make this focus on team, relationships and trust ongoing.  Every meeting should start with the team stuff.  Bring folks in to reinforce team and collaboration and communication and trust throughout the entire project from inception to demolition.

Step 3:  Give everyone tools in order for them to achieve their peak level of mental, physical, and emotional performance.  Think about it.  We throw people in a big pot that has high stakes and crushing stress without any tools and expect them to perform like a well-oiled machine. This is ludicrous.  And they don’t get enough sleep, eat crappy food, and have really poor health habits during a demanding project.  As part of your ongoing team building, have discussions about stress and nutrition and sleep and other things that will inhibit performance.  Give them the tools they need to succeed.  It also creates a sense of connection and team because everyone is looking out for each other and their well-being.

If you want more free information and resources, download my white paper that includes two of my bestselling books and another white paper on how to build the people before you build the project.  It will give you the tools you need to make your next project a huge success!  Click here to download the white paper.  

And if you want even more resources on emotional intelligence and all of the critical people skills your folks need to succeed, click here  for information on our online courses called The Total Leadership Library.


Top 10 Tips for Tough Guys for Tremendous Success in Life and Work

April 2, 2015

Angry businessman ready to fight

“You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.” Rumi



Many of you know about my “Tough Guy” series of books:

Communication and Presentation Skills for Tough Guys

Relationship Skills for Tough Guys:  The 12 Steps to Great Relationships

Stress Management, Time Management, and Life Balance for Tough Guys

And make not mistake.  The term “guy” is gender neutral.  There are plenty of female tough guys out there.

I also have The Tough Guy Survival Kit, which includes all three books.

These books were written especially for all of those tough guys out there.  I work mainly in the construction industry and help contractors, architects, and engineers with their social competence and “soft” skills.  But there is nothing soft about these skills.  They are essential for success in life and work.  Is there a tough guy in your life?


Here are the top 10 Tough Guy Tips for knocking off the rough edges and becoming better with communication and relationships:

1.  Avoid the use of I and me in your conversations.  This forces you to make it all about the other person.

2.  Avoid starting questions with the word “why”.  It sounds like an interrogation, and the other person will likely be put on the defensive.  Find a way to ask the same question with the other reporter questions:  what, where, when, how.  And “What the hell were you thinking?” doesn’t count.

3.  Smile.  I know it’s tough.  But it puts people at ease and opens them up.  It also reduces your stress.

4.  It’s not about the information.  It’s about making a connection with others.  Instead of a transaction, try to create a positive emotional experience.  Whether it is your spouse, your kids, or the person at the grocery store, this makes your encounters with others much more meaningful.

5.  Try this empathy exercise:  Get rid of the kids for a while, sit your spouse down and ask them to tell you about their day.  You can’t offer any suggestions, comments, or criticisms.  You can’t tell them what they should have done.  All you have to do is listen and try to determine what emotions they were feeling throughout their day.  And that is the only comment you can offer:  “That must have made you feel . . . ”

6.  An old man told me before my wedding a sage piece of advice:  “You can be right or you can be happy.  And the choice is yours.”  Think about this one.

7.  Whenever anyone gives you advice or a comment or criticism, just say thanks.  Nothing else.  Just thanks.

8.  Build in personal reflection time EVERY DAY!  This can be prayer time, meditation time, quiet time, vision time or whatever you want to call it.  It doesn’t have to be long, but it has to be consistent.

9.  Lighten up.  Don’t take things so seriously.  This too shall pass.  In the movie Stripes, there is a soldier who tells everyone he will kill them for any minor infraction.  The Sergeant tells him,  “Lighten up, Francis!”

10.  Spend more time with your spouse, kids, and pets.  Check in with them often.  Don’t sacrifice you or your family for work.  Remember, when most people are on your death bed, they rarely if ever say, “Gosh, I wish I could have worked a little more!”

There will be more tough guy tips to come.  And tough guys, once they get it, really do make the positive changes in their lives.  So for all of those with tough guys in their lives, hang in there!


Construction Problems: It May Be a Hormonal Issue

December 10, 2014




Paul Zak is a researcher who studies oxytocin, also known as the connection hormone or the love hormone.  Oxytocin is secreted by nursing mothers and babies and also during sex.  It connects us.  When we are under the effects of oxytocin, we feel a lot of trust, closeness, and cooperation.  This is necessary for our survival.  When Paul Zak gave oxytocin to research subjects, their trust levels went up.

He also studied the opposite of oxytocin, which is testosterone.  Testosterone is the mistrust hormone, the selfish hormone, the uncooperative hormone.  Keep in mind that men have ten times the testosterone as women.  Also, under times of stress, testosterone goes up and oxytocin goes down.  Can you think of a male dominated industry that is highly stressful?  Maybe construction?

So could all of this lack of cooperation and adversarial relationships in the construction industry be due to too much testosterone and not enough oxytocin?  Perhaps.  And Paul Zak has a solution to this problem, which has earned him the nickname “Doctor Love”. He said to increase oxytocin, he recommends at least eight hugs per day.

When I spoke recently at the National COAA (Construction Owner’s Association of America), I told them about this research and Paul Zak’s solution.  I also told them that I looked forward to the day when we had owner mandated hugs on all projects.

After my speech, the person who introduced me gave me a big hug.  Then another guy gave me a hug.  People were hugging all over the place.  One guy would give me his hug count every time he saw me during the conference.

Could it be that simple?  Give it a try and see what happens.


Beyond Partnering: How to Create High Performing Teams on Projects

November 13, 2014

blue angels


Traditional partnering sessions are a waste of time and money. Period. I have developed a methodology that goes beyond the traditional partnering session and contributes to the success of all of the project stakeholders and the project. Here is the step-by-step process:

  1. We start with an introduction to emotional intelligence and the basics of beyond partnering. Everyone learns what emotional intelligence is, how it can be measured and improved, and how it relates to project and personal success. We also introduce the concept of physical well-being and the mind-body connection and how it affects emotional, physical, and mental performance, which contribute to project success.
  2. Project team members take the EQi 2.0 evaluation and Symptom Survey (physical evaluation). We will take the project team through their results and how it affects team dynamics, communication, stress management, relationships, and ultimately, personal, professional, and project success.
  3. Each project team member will create their own personal, professional, health, and project goals. While we are in this process, it’s a good time to focus on areas in the project stakeholders’ lives that they want to change-finances, health, a new hobby, quitting smoking, eating better, etc. We will take the group through project goals so that everyone is clear on the overall goals and how their personal goals and company goals tie into this entire process. We will also discuss the basics of communication, roles, and responsibilities for each project stakeholder and company. We will set metrics for project success and measure these throughout the project.
  4. This preliminary work will give participants a better understanding of themselves, their limitations, and what to work on. We also do some initial exercises to set a baseline. One is called the Four Quadrants. Participants divide a piece of flip chart paper into four quadrants and label them family, this project, personal, and future vision. At the top, they put their name and their favorite piece of music. At the bottom, they put some of their challenges for the project, personally, and professionally. This is a great exercise. It breaks down barriers and creates a lot of emotional threads among the participants. We keep this information for each individual forever so we can check in occasionally to see what has changed.
  5. We also have them write a letter to themselves dated the last day of the project that lists all of their accomplishments that they have attained as a result of the program as well as the results of the project. This future diary plants all of their accomplishments and project success in their subconscious so that even if they aren’t thinking about them consciously, they are still working on them. Recently, we have given the participants the option of making a mind movie, which is a visual future diary.
  6. There is much accountability built into this process.  We have cross function accountability partners.  For instance, the architect representative might be the accountability partner of a contractor’s project manager.  The owner’s representative might be the accountability partner of a superintendent.  They hold each other accountable throughout the course of the project.
  7. We also teach everyone how to coach each other.  There is a simple methodology where project stakeholders perform peer-to-peer coaching and group coaching, using the project as a backdrop and catalyst to help each other attain all of their goals and overcome any issues.
  8. We determine the group scores and address any group developmental needs as well as the project needs.
  9. We deliver learning modules spread throughout the project on various topics such as team-building, innovation, communication, relationships, stress management, time management, presentation skills, etc.  We create an atmosphere of learning, not an atmosphere of training. We also use the latest studies in neuroscience that tells us how people learn and retain information. We involve as many of the senses as possible during the learning process. We utilize reflective learning continually because repetition creates retention. We reflect each week we meet upon personal success and project success and measure the metrics that we have designated to determine progress.  These learning modules may also include areas specific to the project or group such as business strategies and vision. The programs we provide are truly customized to each individual, to each group, and to each company, and each project. And with minimal lecture and self-directed, experiential learning, activity-based learning, each program is truly unique.  This ongoing learning and checking in ensures success of individuals and the project.
  10. It is our experience that these leadership programs that we do for individual companies create a lot of closeness and trust and high performing teams.  We have taken the outcome and now applied it to projects.  When we apply this same methodology to projects, we create high performing teams and successful projects that go beyond partnering.


Top Questions about Emotional Intelligence and the Construction Industry – Answered! Part 4

October 23, 2014

EQ IQIsn’t this just another management fad?

I have given much thought and introspection to this question. As a matter of fact, I considered this possibility when I first started this work. But after seeing the results and seeing the supporting data, the answer to this question is a resounding NO! The shelves are filled with thousands of self-help books for managers. And many of these books contain good information. So, why do management fads come and go like the tides?

Because there is a fundamental flaw in their application. They pile generic information on top of generic problems without regard to the individual. No matter how good the information is or how valid the approach, without addressing the fundamental emotional makeup of the individual, the application of this information may never take place.

Every company we have worked with agrees that communication is essential in the construction industry. Companies spend millions of dollars on training to give their people better communication skills. But because of the typical EQ profiles of most people in the construction industry, they are often incapable of applying this training. If they have high assertiveness, independence, and self-regard, and low empathy and interpersonal relationship skills, they will likely come across as someone who doesn’t listen, won’t ask for other’s opinions, and does whatever they think is best regardless of any group input. You can put that person in a communication seminar or buy them books to teach them how to communicate, but it is very probable that they will still be unable to communicate effectively when the seminar is over.

If someone has high reality testing and problem solving along with low flexibility and optimism, they may have issues concerning change. This person will have a very rigid approach to life and work. This person can go to a seminar on change management or read a book like Who Moved My Cheese?, but his lack of flexibility usually prevents him from truly embracing change. He will have difficulty in the construction industry because of the constant change, but if his flexibility and optimism are increased, he will be much better able to deal with this issue.

Using emotional intelligence as the foundation for development programs is a different approach. Instead of starting with a particular area of training such as communication or teambuilding, we address the fundamental emotional developmental needs of every individual. Then we address these needs with specific, targeted learning modules. By addressing the emotional competencies first, the participants can develop the emotional makeup to be able to apply the concepts of the learning modules. All future training can be related back to the employees’ emotional intelligence development plans, which also make any subsequent company training more effective.

As Lisa Fanto, the the Vice President of Human Resources for Holder Construction Company put it, “I’ve been in and managed corporate education for a long time, and I’ve seen all of the fads du jour come and go and suffered through many of them. This is the only thing I’ve seen ever in my career that actually changes lives. I know that sounds dramatic, but it does. It actually changes people. And in order to change the way people manage, you have to change the way they live.”

Top Questions about Emotional Intelligence and the Construction Industry – Answered! Part 3

October 16, 2014

EQ IQCan emotional intelligence be learned?

Seabiscuit was just a broken down horse incapable of winning until someone saw his potential and developed it through training. It was only then that he became one of the greatest racehorses in the history of racing. The trick is to be able to identify individual potential and develop it with effective techniques. But how do you teach something like empathy? We have developed a methodology targeted for the construction industry called “Emotional Intelligence – Foundation for Your Future”. It was co-developed with Kate Cannon, a pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence.

After the initial EQ evaluation and feedback, we begin with a half-day program where each participant creates detailed, individual development plans. The participant targets specific competencies based on their future needs and then chooses development strategies from different categories depending on their learning style. They also create plans for mental and physical peak performance that are tied into their emotional plans focusing on nutrition, exercise, and stress management. We utilize many different types of exercises and development ideas and use various media such as books, fables, movies, television, magazines, operas, plays, and websites.

We also emphasize the day-to-day application of this learning and provide inspirational quotes for each competency. In addition, we build in many levels of accountability. In a group setting, everyone has an accountability partner. They also provide me with accountability partners above them, beside them, below them, family and friends, and clients. After the six month mark, I call these accountability folks to see if they have seen any changes.

These are all powerful ways to keep the learning in the forefront, but the key to this learning is in the follow-up and coaching. We contact individuals every three or four weeks to check on their progress, offer encouragement, and provide coaching. We also do at least one face-to-face coaching session during the program. Without this individual coaching and follow-up, the participants tend to set aside their development plans. But if they know they will be re-evaluated and that someone will be checking in with them every few weeks, they are much more likely to work on their development plans and create fundamental behavioral change from within. One participant said this about the process, “I thought that people are who they are by their mid-twenties. I definitely feel that people are capable of significant change.”

I love to tell the story of Bryan, a superintendent in his late thirties with an anger problem. He told me that this problem had troubled him since he was young, and that if I could help him find a way to control it, he would be most grateful. This issue showed up in his EQ-i®. He had low emotional self-awareness along with high assertiveness and low impulse control. His low emotional self-awareness didn’t allow him to feel himself getting angry, and eventually, with his low impulse control, it just boiled over.

The first thing we did was work on his emotional self-awareness. I suggested that he try to become aware of where he felt anger in his body and identify it as early as possible. We also worked on basic breathing and meditation techniques along with centering techniques to help with his impulse control.

I gave him a book to read and told him that it may be a little “out there”for him, but to try and find something he could relate to. In the process of reading the book, he found a centering technique that worked for him. He created a focal point by putting a photograph of his two small girls on his mobile phone. When he felt himself getting frustrated, (with greater emotional self-awareness, he felt it in his body), he excused himself from the situation, took ten deep breaths, flipped open his phone, and looked at his little girls. This allowed him to decompress and control his anger.

In his words, “Leaving a bad situation, even briefly, has allowed me to not act in anger or impulsively.” He improved his emotional management and changed his behavior, making him a more effective leader. With this shift, he has learned to listen more without being so reactive. He told me that the people who work with him have noticed these changes. As he puts it, “Listening, not reacting to people I encounter has led to a more positive approach to my professional life.” In addition to improved leadership skills, there has also been an improvement in his mental and physical performance. He is less stressed and better able to handle difficult situations without compromising his health.

Even if the scores from the EQ-i® do not increase; there still can be some very useful information for the participant. Annelise, a purchasing manager from Denmark, decided to work on her social responsibility, which was relatively low. Eleven months later, at the end of the program, when she took the EQ-i® again, she found that her social responsibility score was even lower. Interestingly enough, her self-actualization, happiness, and optimism had increased dramatically.

When we discussed these numbers, I asked her why she chose to work on social responsibility. She told me that she believed that it was the right thing to do, that she thought her family and friends wanted her to spend more time with them. I asked her if she had spent more time with family and friends in an effort to increase her social responsibility. She replied that she had not. She told me that work had been particularly hectic, and she had been working non-stop since the beginning of the program. She usually worked alone rather than in groups or teams. She also indicated that she felt a little guilty for working so much.

I asked her if she enjoyed working and she responded by saying that it was the most important thing in her life. She loved the challenge and felt that the company needed her during this particularly difficult period, which made her feel valued and important. That was the reason for her significant increases in self-actualization, happiness, and optimism. I suggested that perhaps this second evaluation revealed that during this period in her life, her work, which gave her great joy, was something that she would do well to focus on. In addition, since she worked alone, this way of working did not contribute to increasing her social responsibility. This conversation was a great relief to her. Perhaps all she needed was permission to enjoy her work life without guilt. So, in this case, although the competency she had originally chosen decreased, the results of the second EQ-i® gave us some real insights into the direction she wanted for her personal and professional life.

To sum up, people do learn about themselves and shift behaviors that are troubling by working on specific emotional competencies.  They actually learn these emotional skills, which are not only reflected in the numbers on the re-test, but in the comments of accountability partners who have actually seen the changes.

The Miracle Workers of Construction

April 24, 2014



Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting some projects of one of my very favorite clients, and I have to say, it was a moving experience.  When I was a kid, my dad would take me and my three brothers to his projects.  I was wide-eyed and full of wonder at this miracle of construction.  Yes.  I said miracle.  It is a miracle.  Think about it.  There is no process on earth as complicated as a construction project.  The space shuttle isn’t as complicated as most construction projects.  There are a million parts and pieces with so many human beings putting their mark on it.  It’s amazing that anything gets built.  But it does, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the workers that actually put everything together.

They are the unsung heroes of the industry.  Many of them are struggling with finances, with workloads that limit time with their families, with health issues.  This very tough business has beaten them down physically over the years.  But there they are.  They show up every day.  They do their jobs without complaint.  They perform the day-to-day miracles that propel their projects toward completion.  I visited a particularly difficult retail project with an impossible completion schedule and little or no details on dozens of different rooms with completely different finishes.  As one Superintendent put it, “Well, here we are, pulling another rabbit out of the hat.”  And they did complete the project in time for the retailer to open.  Another magic trick executed to perfection.  Another miracle.  And when I point this out, they don’t see it as miraculous.  They are very humble about what they do.  They get so caught up in the day-to-day work, and they are so good at it, they don’t see it as extraordinary.  But I want all of you workers to know that what you do IS extraordinary.

So this blog is a salute to these unsung heroes and their families who have sacrificed so much.  You have my admiration and respect.  And if there is anything I can do to help you or any cause that you have, I’m here.  Please contact me and let me know what I can do.