Typically, a motivational speaker is used to deliver broad speeches that one can apply to their own, or to their company’s, perceived pitfalls. But rarely does a speaker have such an in-depth knowledge of their audience as nationally recognized strategist and public speaker, Mark Breslin. Last March, Breslin was the keynote speaker at the annual Partners in Progress Conference in Las Vegas. He offered up fresh advice about leadership and how it is essential to changing the traditional construction industry. In an interview prior to the conference, one finds his attitude is as refreshing as his advice.
“I don’t like motivational speaking.
I think motivational speakers [are] a crock, and that’s why I don’t consider myself one,” he says. To Breslin, it is more about presenting useful strategies than loud and obnoxious performances.
“What I believe is that motivational speaking is based on the fact that people can be motivated externally, but, people are naturally intrinsically motivated and what people have to do is tap into that.”
Breslin has a knack for helping people improve their businesses by helping them tap into their natural motivations. Having an extensive background in the industries he serves, certainly helps. Breslin has four generations of contracting in his family and has been the executive director of the Engineering and Utilities Contractors Association (EUCA) for 25 years. Originally from San Francisco, CA., Breslin once worked in trades to fund his way both through high school and college. These days, Breslin is a married family man focussing on assisting construction unions through his uncompromising and straightforward style.
“I think what I really try and do in the end is try and reach them somewhere no one has yet. A lot of people in the trades have not had people try and sincerely reach them and try to get them to examine their life and the opportunity that they have.”
Breslin’s current focus is on improving the workforce through sharing his leadership tips. His advice for demonstrating effective leadership? Employee engagement.
“I believe we have a disengaged workforce because we haven’t spent much time on it. People have to start thinking of the commercial and operational benefits of employee engagement through becoming a better leader,” he says. “Bold leaders are extremely focused on engagement as a strategy and as a way of accomplishing their means.” Breslin points to some good examples of strong leaders like Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers, and Gandhi, an individual who – with incredible engagement – revolutionized a nation without violent means.
Courageous leaders like these re-evaluate what is important, and then act in accordance with that. “A lot of the times you have to go against the grain from what everyone else is doing,” Breslin says. “Leadership is about understanding that the commodity exchange between people is not only financial. The construction industry, being a very traditional industry, is way behind that curve. There is [a lot of money] on the table if they get towards employment engagement. If you give your employees the opportunity to be creative and autonomous they will work harder for you regardless of what you pay them and that is what construction does not understand,” he adds.
Fortunately, Breslin predicts some big changes on the horizon for the construction industry. “The next-gen leadership change in this industry is going to create the most profound overall change that this industry has ever seen.
“The rising up of the 20 somethings and the 30 somethings to bring their attitudes and viewpoints, their talents and their embracing of technology, compared to the people that came before them, is going to be a significant challenge and amazing opportunity for this industry. With guidance and mentorship they might turn out to be the superstar generation that exceeds expectations.”
Despite not considering himself a motivational speaker, Breslin speaks with an undeniable confidence and experienced tone, and a type of common sense that permeates. He says with great emphasis: “One great motivator to instigatechange is fear,” adding, “Look at this marketplace right now. Contractors are very concerned. When people get scared, they get motivated to do something different.”
It’s going to require a change in attitude, he continues. Through employee engagement, by them taking a higher degree of responsibility, workers will produce at a higher level than they are currently.
“If the industry puts its mind to it, it can change everything.
Breslin believes engaging employees, training them properly, and making them a priority are the factors behind leadership. “Management on a construction site these days reminds me of a grade seven school ground instead of an empowering workplace. My goal is to have leaders see that the way to grow effectively and grow their businesses is to welcome this third cultural revolution in construction.”
What Breslin hopes for is a rather quick completion of the next cultural revolution that he feels is on the eve of taking place in the construction industry. It’s not a technological one, as many may expect; it is a leadership revolution.
“We are at the very beginning of this process. The industry needs to lead the third cultural revolution in construction,” Breslin says.
He is confident this revolution will take place quickly, despite the first two revolutions of the construction industry not occurring overnight. The first one regarded safety in the workplace. “Safety went from something of no value, something that was resented in the field and office, to a primary value system for every construction company in 20 years,” Breslin explains. “It changed everything and people made a lot of money. The second cultural change was dealing with drugs and alcohol on the job site. People resisted. Ten years later, a drug-free workplace is a valued thing.”
Yet the key to seeing this next revolution through is in the method, he continues. “The first time we told them, ‘don’t do that,’ and treated [workers] quite childlike. Why not tell [workers] what we want them to do, instead of what we don’t? That’s basic psychology.”
All over the country, Breslin is sharing important advice to leaders in the industry and the workers who work for them. It’s a principle that be applied to any workplace. “The most important thing that you can look for is a work environment that provides you with engagement, empowerment, and a direct supervisor who does that for you personally.”
Specifically, Breslin says of the industry he serves, “the future of union construction does not depend on organizing. It does not depend on training. It doesn’t depend on jurisdictional peace between the various unions. It doesn’t depend on a new president. It doesn’t depend of any of these things at all. What it comes down to is this: Leadership and management development is the most powerful method of controlling destiny, our future, and our market share.”
Speakers like Breslin are frequently invited to address employees, versing them on new trends in the business world and refreshing them when it comes to best business practices.
The presentations are meant to shake things up for industries that seem to be struggling, or ones who face great changes and new challenges. Breslin’s overall message is that leadership and management will become key drivers supporting the industryfor the future generation. And his message is spreading fast.
It’s a big job for one person, but Breslin says he remains intrinsically motivated. “I am purposefully motivated. I’m very excited to get 1,000 people to give me a standing ovation, but I’m more excited to do something that taps my potential.I am the one that is motivated, whether they are motivated is up to them,” he says, adding that what the industry needs is business speakers with strategies that motivate people, not a superficial emotional engagement.
Breslin addresses large audiences in both the US and Canada every year. In Canada he spends most of his time in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. He mostly shows up for business but recently spent some time enjoying the Gulf Islands.
For more advice from Mark Breslin, check out his books, Organize or Die, Survival of the Fittest, Million Dollar Blue Collar, and the most recent, Alpha Dogs: Leading Yourself and Others. •