How Good Leaders Elevate Your Business

A construction leader smiling

You've seen the impact good leaders have. Their crews are typically more productive and more motivated, they bring in more revenue, they make fewer mistakes, and they seem to have fewer personnel and retention problems. 

But why is that? 

Let's look at why leadership matters and compare good and bad leadership habits so we can see how good leaders elevate your business. 

Why leadership matters for retention and recruitment

The Dirt World has a people problem:

  • One in five construction companies lost workers to another industry in 2017.1 
  • 789,000 construction workers quit their jobs from September to December 2021.2
  • Construction faced a projected shortage of 650,000 workers in 2022.3  

And that’s just construction. It doesn’t include turnover or shortages in other sectors like mining and utilities.

Turnover is a symptom of an even bigger problem: 52% of manual laborers are unsatisfied with their jobs.4 And the next generation isn’t rushing into the industry.



Poor leadership harms retention

Among people who quit their jobs in 2021, 35% said feeling disrespected at work was a major reason they quit. Another 21% called disrespect “a contributing factor.”5 That means more than half of people who quit weren’t getting treated right at work.

Who’s most likely to disrespect workers? Their direct supervisors. 

Some forms of disrespect include:  

  • Berating employees. No one wants to get yelled at or talked down to—especially in front of others. 
  • Setting unclear expectations. There’s a saying that, “To be unclear is to be unkind.” Leaders who don’t set clear expectations set their teams up to fail.
  • Not helping employees grow. In our Dirt World Workforce Survey, we asked 600 people what would improve their job satisfaction most. Their top two answers were a raise and training.

Things like these make work a burden to avoid, instead of a mission to be part of. 

However, employees are incredibly loyal if they have a great supervisor. In fact, they consistently rank a healthy work environment as the most important factor in employee retention, engagement, and well-being.6 

And who creates that healthy environment? Leaders.

Poor leadership hurts recruitment

J.T., a Dirt World worker, was looking for a new job. He landed an on-site interview, and when he arrived, several employees were standing around on a smoke break. 

One man asked, “Are you here for an interview?”

J.T. said, “Yes.” 

“Do you already have a job?” the man asked. 

“Yes,” J.T. replied.

“Then f***ing keep it,” the man said. 

J.T. was shocked, but he soon discovered why that happened. The company’s leadership stank. 

The two leaders who interviewed him were distracted and disrespectful of his time, keeping him there for several hours. And they spent most of the interview telling him how terrible their employees were. 

Like any sane recruit, J.T. decided not to work for them. He kept looking until he found a company with better leadership.

Moral of the story: If leadership is poor, your current employees won't  tell their friends and family to work for you. They won’t tell anyone to work for you. 

So the first step to solving your recruiting problems is to solve your leadership problems. 

Good and bad leadership habits

Everyone has qualities that can make them good leaders, and everyone has flaws that can make them bad leaders.

Being a good leader isn’t about being perfect. 

It’s about using your good traits effectively—instead of letting your flaws run the show. It’s about developing yourself to be your best. And it’s about helping the people around you do the same. 

Let’s explore how good and bad leadership can impact key areas.

Managing projects 

Good leaders cast a vision for the future—and they tell people about it. They say, “Here’s the goal, and here’s why it’s the goal.” 

When everyone knows the plan, productivity goes up because they can work together to find the best way to execute the plan. More productivity typically means more revenue, retention, and recruits. 

However, leaders don’t always tell people the plan. They sometimes expect employees to blindly do what they say because “I’m the boss.” That hurts morale. Employees grumble that the work is stupid, because they don’t understand why they have to do it a certain way. 

It also closes the leader off to feedback. Crew members can’t say, “Hey boss, I think there’s an easier way. Can we try it?” even though their idea would save the company hours of labor and thousands of dollars.

Managing people

Good leaders intentionally build relationships because they know they’re managing people—not machines. Good working relationships improve morale, productivity, collaboration, and employee health.7

The best leaders are also humble. They don’t overestimate their own importance. Instead, they've learned how to listen to new ideas and hear criticism without getting defensive.

On the other hand, self-centeredness and pride are poor leadership habits. You’ve met someone like this—it’s their way or the highway. And forget trying to share an idea with them! You might as well talk to a backhoe. 

Their team says things like, “Telling Dave won’t make any difference; he never listens.” Or, “Sandy doesn’t care about us.” 

Unfortunately, unapproachable leaders miss out on growth opportunities. And they miss the true spirit of leadership—to serve the people who work for them.


Giving and taking ownership 

Good leaders inspire employees to take ownership, because they take ownership themselves. They focus on their work, and they take responsibility for any mistakes they make. 

They also give their crew members opportunities to take on more responsibility. That’s a smart move, because construction workers rated responsibility and autonomy as their second-most desired work perks, after money.8

When leaders fail to take ownership, they blame others and make sure everybody knows it’s “not their fault.” You won’t hear them apologize for anything. But you will hear them say things like, “Because I said so” and “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Then the whole crew starts playing the blame game. Twenty people could stand around a broken pipeline, and nobody knows how it happened.

To top it off, these leaders micromanage people. Dozens of Dirt World workers have told us their management is controlling, stress-inducing, and ineffective. 

They say things like:

  • “I wish there was less pressure from upper management.”
  • “There should be a better appreciation for the people working in the field.” 
  • “I wish general contractors would lean on their subs’ knowledge more often.”
  • “I wish there was a top to bottom safety culture.”

Your people crave clear, direct, purposeful leadership. They crave bosses who value them and trust them to do their jobs. Which brings us to . . .

Valuing others

Good leaders value people in every role. They know the importance of each position on the crew and have a basic understanding of what every person does and how that person is vital to the process.

They use that knowledge to build reliable teams, whom they consistently treat with respect. Then, employees put their best foot forward, because they want to live up to what their leader believes they can do.

But in the task-oriented Dirt World, it’s all too easy to act like people are expendable. Some leaders treat crew members poorly because they can find another. They favor the “essential” operator, but they ignore the grade checker the operator depends on. 

And when it’s time to promote someone? The buddy system kicks in. They promote the people they think are important—not the people who are best for the job. 


In our survey, many Dirt World workers said they wanted better communication, especially between the field and the front office

Good leaders communicate effectively. They are clear and direct. They address problems head-on, while remaining respectful of others. They seek to understand people and problems. They ask questions, and when someone asks them a question, they answer.

On the flip side, some common bad communication habits are:

  • Yelling
  • Belittling people
  • Giving long, unclear “explanations”
  • Refusing to ask or answer questions 

Handling stress

Good leaders are calm, cool, and collected. They don’t take their stress out on others at work or at home. 

Instead, they do their best to minimize stress by building strong relationships and taking care of themselves outside of work so they can bring their A game for the team. 

They also have trusted work peers, loved ones, and mentors to talk to. 

And if a plan needs to change, the good leader can quickly, calmly handle it and get everybody on board with the new plan.

That’s important, because it’s easy for leaders to become short-tempered—especially when they try to handle everything alone. Many sacrifice time at home to handle yet another work emergency. Their stress deeply affects their employees and families. 

They may even get sick, gain weight, go bald, or have major health problems—like a heart attack—because of stress.


The Dirt World is facing some serious workforce challenges. 

Companies are struggling to retain the people they already have and recruit the next generation into their talent pipeline.

The solution to both problems is good leadership. It improves retention and recruitment, and it’s the only path forward to give the industry a bright future. 

Let’s recap the good and bad leadership habits we talked about:



Cast a vision—and tell it to the team 

Don’t tell people the plan

Build relationships 

Don’t connect with others or take feedback

Be humble

Be arrogant

Take ownership

Blame others and micromanage

Value every role

Treat people like they’re disposable

Communicate clearly and effectively

Be unclear

Stay calm and manage stress

Stay worked up so you can stomp out fires

So, how do you help the leaders on your team develop good habits that will elevate them, their crews, and the business? Simple: you teach them those habits. 

One easy way to do that is with BuildWitt Training. Our Leadership learning plan offers over 100 courses from experts like Jocko Willink, Wally Adamchik, Jason Schroeder, and more. Leaders can also complete courses on management and field leadership to learn how to manage their projects and people better.

Check Out Leadership Training

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