We’ve all heard the expression that you shouldn’t ever judge a book by its cover, and I for one, tend to agree with this expression. I will admit that I DO judge a book by the cover but since I am generally an open-minded sort of person, this “judgment” doesn’t normally have a negative or lasting aspect to it if I were to miss on my initial assessment. But what happens if we were to extend the analogy to reading the jacket … is it fair to judge a book based on the authors own description of the book?
I’m going to say “yes” on that one.
I recently did a video interview as part of an ongoing AIA Small Firms Roundtable series. In it, one of the questions I was asked was “Tell us a short story about one of your biggest challenges.” Obviously they don’t know me very well, I don’t tell short stories … I’m more of a “tall tales” sort of person because I’m prone to hyperbole. However, in this case the story that came to mind, the one that I associate with one of my biggest challenges, happened many, many years ago when I was still in my early 30’s. For the most part, the only bumps I had experienced in my career at this time had more to do with boredom than anything else.
Reflecting back on it now, I think it’s interesting to tell young folks that they will learn far more from negative experiences than from positive ones. I had a commercial project that I inherited when I started working at a new firm that had just started construction. It was a publicly bid and awarded project and I had no knowledge of this particular construction company. Once the project got underway, it became obvious that the selected construction company had badly underestimated the total cost of the project and as a result, they spent the next two years during construction picking every possible fight they could to try to make up the difference.
Pretty much every time I saw the owner of the construction company, he told me he was going to sue me, that he would crush and bury me while laying ruin to my career … He actually called me “son” every time he told me all the ways he was going to wreck my life.
It didn’t help matters that the construction company went through 3 project managers and 4 or 5 project superintendents during this project – every time I would make some headway into creating some goodwill between us and the contractor, that person would get fired, or simply disappear. The project was constantly delayed for one reason or another, the contractor sent in over 400 RFI’s (Request’s for Information), there were weekly meetings … it seemed that their strategy was to bury me in paperwork until I broke.
They never did break me but the entire process was incredibly stressful, I lost a lot of sleep and weight while freaking out over this project … I hated it and I wondered constantly why karma had decided that I needed some massive cosmic smack-down.
Going through this experience fundamentally changed who I was and how I did my job. It was also the best thing that has ever happened to me in my career. I was once told by my father-in-law that I would make a great contractor. Considering that he was a construction manager himself and had run projects as large as $730,000,000 (yes – that’s closing in on a billion), if he’s talking construction, I should probably be listening. Did he give me this accolade because of my insight into the construction process? Maybe it was because my knowledge of materials and methods is superlative? What exactly was it about me that warranted him telling me that I would make a great contractor?
…… it was because I’m good at yelling at people.
He had heard me yelling at someone I was on the phone with during one of our trips to visit and apparently I had just the right balance of condescension, irritation and authority in my voice.
You are no longer the victim, you are the problem. People don’t look to you for solutions, they look for ways of working around you.
The truth of the matter is that I don’t really like to yell at people anymore … for any reason. It just isn’t productive, doesn’t accomplish anything, and makes every step for the remainder of the project infinitely more difficult. Sometimes a contractor responds better to the yelling but it just isn’t for me. It was during this time in my career, when everything was going wrong and I was constantly under attack that I learned how to handle myself. I was able to see from the contractors behavior, how yelling and picking fights did far more damage than good. When all you do is yell, holler, point fingers and blame everybody else, people stop listening. You are no longer the victim, you’re the problem. People don’t look to you for solutions, they start working around you.
In the end, everybody saw that the character of the contractor was pretty much aligned with his behavior, he was acting like a jerk because he was a jerk. You will be judged for how you act, your behavior matters.
Keep it together people –