I walked into the superintendent’s office at the construction site and handed him the work order from the union hall.
He looked at it and exclaimed, “Oh, thank god, they finally sent me another journeyman carpenter! Now I have two. I only need about 18 more. Until I get them, you’ll be leading a crew of apprentices and laborers.”
I felt a sense of panic in my stomach.
A year earlier, as I was finishing the Spring semester of my sophomore year in college, my uncle told me about a summer job opportunity. “How would you like to earn four times what you’re making right now?” he asked.
Figuring he was just kidding, I replied, “I dunno, who do I gotta kill?”
“No, I’m serious. The job site where I’m an inspector needs journeyman carpenters, and there’s a shortage here in town. You’ll make union wage.”
My father was a builder, and I had grown up around the construction industry. I had some skills, but at 20 years of age, I didn’t think I had enough, so I said, “But, I’m not a union member; and I’m not a journeyman carpenter. Don’t you have to go through a four-year apprenticeship first?”
“The union and nearly every construction site in town is desperate. I know a guy with the union who will bring you in as a journeyman, and I’ll vouch for you at my job site. You know how to hang sheetrock don’t you?”
“Then if you can do the work, you’ll keep the job. If not, they’ll let you go. You want to go for it?”
“And, make four times what I’m making now - sure.”
I managed to keep the job and worked the whole summer. The following summer I was ready to do it again. But when the superintendent told me that I’d be leading a crew, a wave of fear went through me. The summer before, I was clearly the junior journeyman on the job, and there were plenty of people telling me what to do. Now I was going to be in charge, and I didn’t know if I could do it.
The job was a massive housing project that was being remodeled. There were dozens of three story buildings that had been gutted. My first assignment was to prepare the interior walls for plasterboard. The superintendent handed me a set of plans, and pointed out the building where I was to start. “I’ll send over two apprentices and two laborers.”
While I was waiting for my crew, I studied the plans and the interior of the building. When my crew arrived, I still needed more time, so I sent them for tools and supplies. By the time they returned I had an action plan and put everyone to work.
A week later two more apprentices were assigned to my crew. Each morning, I would give everyone their assignments and we would go to work. Things went pretty smoothly for the next several weeks, then one day I encountered a problem I couldn’t figure out. Panic again rose in my stomach. It was something an experienced carpenter would’ve known how to deal with. Because of that, I was afraid to ask the superintendent for help because it would expose what a fraud I was already feeling like inside. So, I called over all the apprentices and asked if any of them had any idea of what to do. One of them said he knew, so after I sent the others back to work, he showed me. When he finished, I was so impressed that I said, “Wow, you sure know a lot for an apprentice!”
He replied, “I’m not an apprentice; I’ve been a journeyman for ten years.”
“Ten years!” I was shocked. “Then you must be like 12 years older than me (he was very young looking and I had assumed we were the same age).”
He nodded, and I asked, “If you’ve been a journeyman for ten years, why have you been letting me boss you around for the last month?”
He looked at me for a moment, then said, “Well, you’re just so good at it.”
The point of this story is that if you lead with confidence - even when you’re afraid - people will happily follow you. Two of the most important components of effective leadership is confidence and communication. If you confidently communicate with your people, and they trust that you have their (and the organization’s) best interest at heart, they will follow you.
So, if you’re feeling fear more than confidence, just fake it until it’s true.
Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist/speaker and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is the author of ...and Never Coming Back, a psychological thriller-novel about a motion picture director; The Annoying Ghost Kid, a humorous children's book about dealing with a bully; and the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.