Toxic Construction Culture weeded out by a new style of leadership

Five years on and it’s happening, wholesome leaders empowering people to build amazing structures in Perth’s high-rise horizon.
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pic taken at Langley Park nurturing good mental health and suicide awareness, a Hanssen campaign ‘run for a friend ;’

Five years ago today I concluded a succesful personal challenge to make a difference in the building industry within my sphere of influence. I was invited to make a difference in one of Perth’s largest construction companies by the owner, Mr Gerry Hanssen. Mr Hanssen can come across as eccentric, although I found him to be quite normal, perhaps that’s saying something about me?

Mr Hanssen has quite a reputation that extends beyond the construction industry. To some, Mr Hanssen rules with an iron fist as a ruthless business man, to others he can come across as a saint, by enlarge he is not a fool, boring or out of touch.

I said to Mr Hanssen when starting five years earlier “I’m not that interested in the building side of your company, I’m interested in the people dynamics”. Mr Hanssen in his colourful language and master of dramatics said “Good, that way you don’t f*ck up my system”. It is very evident when looking at the system that Hanssen has built over the years, it is world-class when it comes to bringing a project together on time and on budget, truly, Hanssen is second to none. Mr Hanssen invited me into his company because he could see a huge gap in the ethics and accountability of his work force. Traditionally, accountability is driven by two paths, overwhelming processes or using the stick and fear tactics. Wether I could make a difference or not was completely up to me, Mr Hanssen just unleashed me with no parameters.

Why could I possibly think that I could make a difference in an industry I knew nothing about? 

I’ve spent my whole life dealing with all sorts of people who had shady characteristics but found very few to be truly notorious at the core, if I just kept looking. One of my business friends made a passing comment some years ago ‘Tom, its like you keep peeling off the rotten outer layers like an onion until you find something good about a person’. I like the analogy and to be honest with some, I just kept peeling and peeling and moved on to the next person, perhaps others might find the good, but I still believed there was good to be found.

My first six months at Hanssen were terrible, I didn’t expect it to be a walk in the park.

The only people who made me feel welcome on the sites were Mr Hanssen and the new recruits who felt like outsiders themselves. The management at the time which I now call the old guard kept a tight circle. The old guard seemed to morph into characters likened to the Sapranos, taking themselves way to seriously. Some time had passed and I wasn’t to bothered that the old guard dismissed me, there were too many people on the sites to work with and I focused on those that were open.

My whole program is displayed in following four quadrants: It is so shallow that a baby could swim in it and so complex that a lawyer would drown in it, pending the character of a person. The program brings out the worst and the best in us, hopefully shedding the worst.

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People are people anywhere in the world and that’s why I know my program would work no matter what industry. 

While I continued to create a subculture within Hanssen at the grassroots and with some older workers that were tired of the Sapranos style leadership, I got my first break with one of the Saprano leaders. The young man was stressed and out of desperation sought help and asked me, “Do you have some sort of leadership course I could do to cope with all the stress and people?”. Unfortunately this young man was trained wrong but had great potential and capacity for leadership. I said to him “Let’s go and have some subway” and I shared my course with him in about twenty minutes as I’ve done to others, often drawing it on the back of a paper towel.

The young leader was ready to make huge changes which meant separating himself from the inner circle and becoming his own person, getting back to the fundamentals. This young man didn’t understand the basics of motivation and developing a sustainable workforce as most managers don’t.

Managers manage processes, leaders inspire hope and lead people, two unique sets of skills that must be developed together. Most managers get this understanding the wrong way around and destroy the potential in people out of their desire to control and not lead.

Over the next few months I worked closely with this young leader while still developing the grassroots subculture on the sites, then another leader cracked and opened up. We to went to subway and I went through my program looking for a paper towel. One by one the leaders cracked and opened up and Subway became my new office for a while. Within months I started to have monthly leadership breakfasts and worked very closely with anyone that was open to seeing their own potential.

Mr Hanssen was asked about a year after I started by a manager within his company “What does Tom actually do?” Mr Hanssen responded “I don’t know, but I see the effect”. Five years down the track, Mr Hanssen would describe it a little clearer. “Tom, you help people get their confidence back, you help them find their own soul”. That’s good enough for me. 

It’s been an amazing journey with Hanssen, a company that has had thousands working on their sites throughout the years. At last count Hanssen was represented by sixty nationalities and over the last 25 years has had over a thousand apprentices come through with training as one of its highest priorities.

Moving forward, I’m stepping into another unknown and seeing where I could make a difference. I’m climbing an even greater mountain and the only reason I know I can make a difference is, people are people.

I’m confident that Mr Hanssen will continue to succeed. As long as he takes chances with unknowns like me to see if they have something in them to add value to his company. Mr Hanssen is always on the lookout for ethical and hard-working people, willing to give them a go.

I’m also confident that the Hanssen subculture that I’ve assisted to develop over the last few years is strong and is now becoming the new culture where people care about their fellow workers. A culture where workers work with an ethic and train the next generation to do the same. I’m confident this new culture driven by conscience will weed out Sapranos style leaders that is still very much alive in the Construction Industry. This Ethical style of leading, building the people who build the buildings will make an impact beyond the building industry in a wholesome way.

Before you make a judgement, take time to visit Hanssen and meet this new breed of leader on the latest sites and make your own call.

My last weekly site meeting with some of the leading hands and Mr Gerry Hanssen, he is surrounded by some amazing people who will continue the Hanssen tag line ‘Making a difference’

I give a special thanks to Mr Gerry Hanssen for opening the door, welcoming me into his company and the great team that has become part of my extended family. I’d also like to thank Daniel Gwyther Jones who was the first young leader to crack and seperate himself from the sheep opening the way for others to do the same, it took great courage.

I couldn’t be prouder and feel a richness from the experience, helping young people to self govern.

4 thoughts on “Toxic Construction Culture weeded out by a new style of leadership”

  1. Great work
    Well done Tom
    All the best fir the next adventure
    Looking forward to following and seeing were if leads
    God bless

    G

    Like

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