by Marguerite Coetzee. What the construction industry can teach us about surviving a crisis.

A group of four men gathers on the pavement. A local gets nervous: “This might be the start of another protest,” he says. I am parked near an abattoir, and see a small truck transport some sheep in that direction —lambs to a slaughter, literally. The ocean air in Saldanha feels like salt on an open wound. Everything is stained a rusty red thanks to the steel factory, the town’s lifeblood.

It’s been months of talks and tension around the construction taking place in the area. Some even claim there’s a construction ‘mafia’ who behave in a destructive and aggressive manner, while others say these are agents of change ensuring the economic upliftment of emerging local contractors. Construction projects are disrupted — and often prevented from continuing — until an agreement can be made regarding stakes in the project.

With varying perspectives and differing visions for a preferred outcome, the situation could very easily become messy. The construction industry — as a complex system undergoing change — requires transformational leadership to see it through (read more here).

Take note

Simon Sinek wrote a book called Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. In it he demonstrates how assumptions impact behaviour; the difference between manipulation and inspiration; how confidence can lead to certainty; how trust emerges from an alignment of values and processes; and the importance of listening and communication.

However, leaders don’t assume one identity or role, and often struggle or fail to lead their team through transformation. Liz Wiseman, in her book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, identifies several leadership types which she categorises into “multipliers” vs “diminishers”:

  1. The Liberator creates an environment of safety and freedom, while The Tyrant creates a climate of fear and judgement
  2. The Challenger identifies opportunities, while The Know-It-All simply delegates and gives direction
  3. The Talent Magnet attracts skilled people and encourages them to contribute, while The Empire Builder protects their own resources and refuses to share
  4. The Debate Maker drives the decision-making process through purposeful debate, while The Decision Maker creates confusion by making decisions on their own
  5. The Investor constantly delivers favourable results, while The Micro-Manager maintains control over others and holds individuals accountable

Lesson 1: Start with why

Change management often fails because of poor execution of a change or misdiagnosis of the problem. A potential starting point is first to sense the situation. From there, a convening question may be crafted to reveal the current narrative of the system and to tap into people’s will. After defining the scope of the problem, tools may then be deployed to help make sense of the situation and guide the approach towards a solution.

  • What are your (or your organisation’s) values, beliefs, and main purpose?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” —Winston Churchill, politician.

Lesson 2: Develop the how

The behaviours and attitudes that foster change are those that raise collective awareness of change, explore alternative methods to managing change, provide access to information about the change, and have flexible structures and processes.

  • What change process could you follow, or what actions can you take, to make your main cause a reality?

“If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude” —Charles Revson, philanthropist.

Lesson 3: Determine the what

Being a change agent requires a level of awareness and state of reflexivity. It’s important to listen to different perspectives and consider different sources of information in order to gain a holistic view of a situation, issue or solution. The overall aim is to craft a new trajectory towards a collectively defined vision through self-transforming patterns.

  • What are the products or services you could offer to be a change agent in a transforming situation?

“The acknowledgement of a single possibility can change everything” — Aberjhani, author.


Marguerite de Villiers Marguerite Coetzee is an anthropologist, artist and futurist who provides research and insight services through Omniology. FieldNotes, the latest series in her regular column on MarkLives, captures experiences from the field, shares the cultural lessons learned, and advises on qualitative tools, methodologies and frameworks when exploring the world of the consumer.

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