Groundbreak, Procore’s annual construction technology conference, serves as an opportunity to bring together some of the most influential thinkers and doers in the construction industry and beyond. Since its debut in 2015, Groundbreak has grown to become one of the world’s premier construction industry conferences.
The pandemic sidelined Procore’s initial plans for Groundbreak 2020 and so it regrouped and moved the conference online. The response was overwhelming, and ultimately, more than 6,000 people attended the virtual conference. This proves that industry professionals are hungry to connect with some of the industry’s most prominent leaders and innovators and learn from them no matter what is going on in the world.
This year’s Groundbreak 2020 attendees heard from a truly inspiring leader, Lt. Gen. (Retired) Nadja Y. West, who served as the 44th Army surgeon general and is the former Commanding General of U.S. Army Medical Command.
Lt. Gen. West is a trailblazer by any definition. She was the first black woman three-star General in U.S. Army history and is currently the highest-ranking woman to ever graduate from the prestigious West Point. In her keynote she spoke with Procore’s Chief Culture Officer Steve Zahm on the timely topic of “Leading During Uncertain Times. How Inclusive Companies Win,” covering the importance of leading with character in these dire times. (If you are a Groundbreak Premium pass holder and haven’t seen this inspiring talk, you don’t want to miss it. It’s still available to watch).
Qualities Every Leader Needs
This year has been fraught with uncertainty. Getting through it has required not only leaders ready to step up but also people willing to follow them. Those who embody the traits common to all great leaders—duty, integrity, loyalty, and respect—are more likely to inspire confidence when times get tough.
“Making the effort to understand those you lead is vital to the success of your organization.”
“During uncertain times, you must be a leader of character so your people know that they can trust you when you have to make hard and unpopular choices or ask them to do hard and unpopular things,” Lt. Gen. West said.
To be an effective and trusted leader, you need to truly know your people. Not just their names, but who they really are as a person.
“Making the effort to understand those you lead is vital to the success of your organization. It helps you genuinely treat people with dignity and respect. It gives them a sense of belonging and feeling that they are truly valued members of the team,” Lt. Gen. West said.
The Importance of Empathy
Empathy, Lt. Gen. West stresses, is the most important attribute for a leader. And it’s one that served her well throughout her career.
“In the army, I led an incredibly diverse organization. I made an effort to understand the unique perspectives, challenges, strengths, motivators, and experiences of my team so that I could better lead them to accomplish our mission. It helped me remember that each person is unique, precious, and unrepeatable and adds value no matter who they are. We just may not be able to see through the lenses that we are using.”
The Power of Inclusivity
For the second part of her session, Lt. Gen. West brought Procore’s Chief Culture Officer Steve Zahm into the conversation to take a deeper dive into how leadership traits emphasized by the army carry over into the business world.
“You really want your team members to feel like they’re part of something larger,” Zahm said. “People need to feel part of that team, or else they’re going to feel like outsiders.”
“People need to feel part of that team, or else they’re going to feel like outsiders.”
Lt. Gen. West recalls how in basic training, each recruit was given a “battle buddy,” This randomly chosen group member became someone for whom you were responsible. That duty and bond transcended any surface-level differences.
“That inclusiveness started early on in our training. That’s why team building in the military, and in most industries, is so important. You have to ensure that the person to your left and right has your back when the going gets tough,” Lt. Gen. West said.
Being Proactive is Critical
A critical aspect of fostering a more inclusive environment for leaders is being proactive. Inclusivity doesn’t just happen. It must be looked at honestly and planned deliberately.
“Are you actively searching for more diverse talent? On the opposite of hiring, look at people who are leaving. Look at turnover. Why are diverse people leaving? Are there people who feel they aren’t able to get ahead or whose voices aren’t being heard? Look at promotions. Who is getting promoted? Is there a pattern?”asked Zahm.
“The bottom line is you have to take action; you just can’t let it happen. You have to be proactive and have that lens to make sure that you’re even looking at it.”