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June 26, 2012

You Gotta Have Heart
Filed under: People Skills — nedpelger

Richard Addler died last week at 91 years old. He and Jerry Ross teamed up to compose songs for the hit Broadway Musicals The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. Their song “You Gotta Have Heart” from Damn Yankees should motivate anyone going through a tough time. The message of a joyful, positive attitude picked me up and I hope it does the same for you.


As an interesting and weird aside, Richard Addler also gained fame by producing the 1962 birthday celebration for president John F Kennedy where the following song was sung. I don’t think you can watch it without smiling.


Do your best today to work through your struggles with a positive attitude. Like Mother Teresa was fond of saying, “I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”


June 8, 2012

Struggling in Construction? Get Wise
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

What do you know about PT Barnum? Probably that he said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” So you know nothing about PT Barnum, because he never said that. One of his circus competitors said that while trying to explain the incredible success of PT Barnum. Ever notice how quickly we turn to criticism or flippancy when explaining a competitor’s success?

Turns out, PT Barnum treated his customers with the utmost respect. He offered up great wisdom in his book Art of Money Getting: or The Golden Rules for Making Money. If you want to get motivated with some great wisdom from the past that translates well today, study that book.

Here are a few insights that give you a taste of his writing:

  • By introducing system into all your transactions, doing one thing at a time, always meeting appointments with punctuality, you find leisure for pastime and recreation.
  • Be cautious and bold … you must exercise caution in laying your plans, but be bold in carrying them out.
  • I have discovered the philosopher’s stone: pay as you go.

You may think that a book written in 1880 couldn’t help you greatly improve your life. I’ve found, though, that wisdom presented from a different era often shines more brightly. Take a few minutes to read and see if you aren’t motivated to read the entire book.

Write down the parts that connect to you and make a plan to get to where you are capable of going. Plan carefully and execute boldly. What is it you’re waiting for?



May 25, 2012

Memorial Day Coolness
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

Every Memorial Day, for as long as I can remember, I stood with my Dad in Lititz and watched our small town Memorial Day Parade. Cub Scouts and Brownies, a kid’s dance troupe, the community band, fire trucks and Army jeeps, a few Veterans in their old, tight uniforms march through the streets for a short parade. As a kid my Dad remembers Civil War Veterans walking in this same parade.

We see lots of folks we know, exchanging the same pleasantries year after year, then we walk up to the cemetery. A service honoring the Veterans follows. Dad served in the Pacific in World War II, at the Battle of Okinawa then later picking up POWs from China and Japan. He always refuses to step forward when they honor Navy vets, saying, “I was paid. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”

He goes to the service every year to honor his best friend from high school, Bobby Kline, who died while fighting in Germany. Dad always had a distaste for glorifying war and the many lies that emanate from it. He taught me to be skeptical of everything I hear from anyone about war experiences. In the 1945 photo below, he’s taking a bite of the apple.

I’m blessed to still have my Dad (at nearly 86) to hang out with. He’s still one of the coolest people I know.

Since Memorial Day encourages us to contemplate those that have touched our lives and passed on, I also tend to think about an artist friend who died about 20 years ago. I recently wrote a Letter to the Editor responding to a memorial article about him.

To the Editors:

The article on David Brumbach brought back some of my life’s best memories.

I was one of the five speakers at his funeral service. As I prepared those words, I knew he wanted me to try to explain his love of Jesus.

Since David was such a reserved and gentle person, many of his friends didn’t know about his deep Christian beliefs. The fruits of his life were obvious to see, but the underlying cause wasn’t.

We had many conversations about the reality of the Holy Spirit filling us and guiding our lives. We often laughed that we both, at some level, wished we were Amish men.

I remember sitting at his wedding, tears streaming down my cheeks as he struggled to stand to say the vows. That marriage ceremony brimmed with courage and integrity. David simply didn’t let circumstances control his life.

One of my most cherished possessions is a book David gave me, titled “Disciplines for the Inner Life.” Written by Bob Benson, who also died young from cancer, the book remains one of the best study guides for peace and wisdom.

My favorite and best memory of David, though, came from a visit a few days before he died. As we sat and joked a bit, he suddenly got serious. He explained that he felt so guilty that he knew he should be struggling harder to stay alive for his new wife and son. Then he said, “But I can see Heaven, and it’s so beautiful. I just want to go.”

That statement, from one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever had the privilege to know, forever deepened my faith. So, David, my friend, thank you.

To quote the last words of another devout friend’s wife, who also died from cancer, “I’ll see you in a second.”

Ned Pelger

Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend. Take some time to think about those that have walked with you and made your life better. Think about how you can help make someone else’s life better. Live the dream, baby. Live the dream.


May 24, 2012

Oh The Stories We’ll Tell…
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

I came across Scott Eblin’s Next Level Blog and was impressed with his insights. He was at a Harvard reunion recently and heard Prof Joseph Nye speak. Here are Scott’s insightful notes:

  • Soft power is as important as hard power. Twenty years ago, Nye came up with the term soft power.  As he said last weekend, it used to be that whoever had the biggest army won.  That’s hard power.  In the 21st century, whoever has the best story wins.  That’s soft power.  The effective use of hard and soft power is what Nye calls smart power.  If you step back and assess your own power, you’ll likely find that your hard power is limited by your circumstances.  Your soft power, however, is entirely dependent on how compelling your story is.  The way in which you share your story is something over which you have direct control.
  • Power is no longer a zero sum game. Nye reminded us that for much of history, power was a zero sum game.  One party won and the other lost.  That’s rarely the case anymore.  Today, the game is not so much about power over others but developing power with others.  That can be a difficult mental shift for a country (or a person) that’s gotten used to being the biggest kid on the block.  In your own case, it might be productive to look for opportunities to combine your power with others.  Doing so can create a 1 + 1 = 3 scenario.
  • Whoever collaborates most wins. Professor Nye shared several stories of a recent speech he gave to 500 students at Beijing University.  It was fascinating to hear how candid he and the students were with each other.   When one student asked him what it would take for China to compete long term with the U.S., Nye told him that it couldn’t as long as the Great Firewall of Internet censorship is in place in the country.  His point was that sustainable long growth and innovation only occurs in an open and collaborative environment.   It used to be that information was power.  Today, sharing information is power.  What sort of opportunities do you and your organization have to gain fromcollaborative leadership?

How does this apply to construction? The difficult building code review you just received acts as a good example. If you try to fight, you likely lose. If you just give in, you lose as well. The only viable alternative is to collaborate, to understand the code official’s viewpoint as well as he or she does, but to also have woven a story with your own interpretation. You put in the time to clearly develop your story that respects the code official but also gets the project done in a reasonable way.

So think about the struggles you face in the context of hard power vs soft power. Learn to develop the stories that most effectively make your point…and to use those stories. This may seem like way too much work to you, but those that do it will find fascinating futures.


May 21, 2012

They Get Drunk and Act Stupid, Just Like Us
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

I spoke with a young man who grew up with my son this weekend. He’s just back from Iraq, having served several tours of duty there in the military, then several more years as a sniper, then team leader for Blackwater Security. He’s a fine man now and we talked about people.

Not about people we both knew, but about people in general. We talked about the differences when a rich world person gets killed vs. a Third World person. I mentioned how my travels led me to believe that people the world over have so much in common. We want the same things from our spouses, from our children, from our lives.

He agreed and told me about the first time this thought came clear to him. He was working as a military policeman in Iraq and they pulled over a vehicle. The four guys inside were drunk (reasonably rare in Iraq), singing and laughing. They wanted to give their new friends hugs. He realized, “They get drunk and act stupid, just like us.”

The insight followed that people are more the same than not. I don’t really know what this insight does to you in a war zone. But on a construction site, the insight should lead to a bit more patience. Perhaps we act with a bit more tolerance and acceptance of different ways when we have a job site encounter with Mexicans, or Poles, or Amish or Fill in the Blanks.

Hopefully, we eliminate offensive language and we strive to improve the productivity of the entire project. The construction industry needs to improve in this area. Each of us should do our part to move our job sites to become more inclusive and productive places. Everyone wins.


May 15, 2012

Building Inspector Rag
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

A building inspector on a large project we completed was complimenting the way our team worked. He mentioned how we strive to get all the info a tradesperson really needs on the drawings and how we make quick decisions to resolve potential problems. He especially liked how pleasant we were with him in resolving difficult issues.

Then he told a story about another project. A commercial building was being built without a building permit. When the Authority Having Jurisdiction found out, they assigned this Building Inspector to go an ascertain the status. He requested they dig up the foundation at one location so he could evaluate the footing and that he look above the finished ceiling at one location.

The Building Owner fussed and cussed. The Building Inspector simply walked away, thinking, “Let the Township handle this.” It took a few weeks, but the Building Owner called the Building Inspector, just as nice as cherry pie, and asked, “Which spot do you want the footing exposed and to look above the ceiling?”

The Building Inspector replied, “I want every single inch of the footings exposed and the entire ceiling taken down.” And that’s the way it went.

Moral? Consider consequences…and learn to keep your pie hole shut.


March 29, 2012

Congratulations to Brent Darnell for Being Named One of ENR’s 25 Top Newsmakers
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

Brent Darnell focuses on people skills in construction, making the case that our profits correlate directly with our ability to communicate and influence others. I like Brent and think he’s a man of integrity doing work he’s passionate about. So I was happy to see that Engineering News Record named him one of the top 25 newsmakers for 2011.

Brent has a construction management background, but now works as a speaker, author, personal coach and teacher. I encourage you to purchase his book The People-Profit Connection.

I know you’re busy. I know that Spring calls you to all sorts of activities in addition to a demanding work schedule. Yet I challenge you to remember the value of investment. Just as saving some money every year, due to the beauty of compounding interest, leaves you with lots of money after a few years (which pass so much quicker than you could imagine). So forcing yourself to learn new things each year, i.e. improving your skill set, compounds your value and your joy. Please consider putting a priority on your own training…intentionally learning new things every year.

If you haven’t read my book Joyful Living: Build Yourself a Great Life!, that’s another resource you may want to consider. You may download it for free. Or take a class online, or sit and write, or take some time to think deeply about where you are and where you want to be. But please learn to see yourself as worthy of the investment of regular training and self-improvement.  Don’t get to the end of your life and realize you focused on all the wrong stuff.

Right now, commit to doing something that will take you out of your comfort zone and improve your understanding. Put it in your to do list and get it done, just like your other important tasks.


March 24, 2012

Choose Your Customers Wisely
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

If you want to prosper in the construction business, select your customers carefully. I know most folks in small (and large) construction firms believe they need the next job so badly that getting work trumps all other concerns. That type of thinking leads to lots of hard work for little reward and often to bankruptcy.

I propose that getting what appears to be a good job with a horrible customer is worse than having no job. The horrible customer will be satisfied only by screwing you at every opportunity. I know some contractors go into those contracts planning to screw their customer in every conceivable way as well. Those type customers and contractors should work together in their no-holds-barred Texas Deathmatch. Let chislers work with chislers.

When I ran a $20M/year full service general contracting firm, I remember that pressure of keeping the project pipe full. I’d meet with a customer and get that feeling that he was a creep that was going to screw us. We’d get the job (or  waste lots of time and not get the job), spend way too much time and effort fighting to get it done, then fight over final payments. We’d lose money on the project. I’d remember my initial guy feeling and wonder why I ignored it again.

I don’t do that anymore. I pick my customers carefully and life goes better in every way. So let’s consider the best and worst customers. Let’s use an academic grading system.

A 4.0 customer appreciates your efforts and operates with absolute integrity. He treats other people the way he wants to be treated. You know that when the feces hits the fan, this guy will be standing with you dealing with the problems, not running and ducking for cover. A 4.0 customer strives to resolve problems fairly, even if he has to dip into his own pocket to pay the difference.

On the other hand, a 0.0 customer acts in active evil. He won’t be satisfied with any of your efforts. In fact, hurting you will be the only thing that will satisfy the 0.0 customer. Lying and cheating will be the norm. You can often feel the creepiness like a fog around the 0.0 customer.

Here’s how I’d fill in between the extremes.

4.0 Fantastic customer: collaborative and working towards win-win solutions.

3.0 Decent customer that tries to be fair, as long as it doesn’t pinch too much. Fair weather integrity.

2.0 Hard nosed customer that fights through every issue, but at least tries to be fair. Tends toward compromise.

1.0 Hard nosed customer that fights though every issue and tries not to be fair (tries to win so you lose)

0.0 Worst customer: only satisfied by bloodying you.

As you look to future projects, start paying attention to what kind of customers you work for. Improve your customers and you’ll improve your life. You simply have to learn to say no to the bad ones, even if you think that you just have to say yes. Get creative and make more opportunities open.


March 17, 2012

Live Your Passion: Be Inspired and Inspiring
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

As I walked in the woods this morning, watching the dog chase squirrels with pure delight, I thought about passion. As several deer ran ahead of me with their white tails like flags in the the air, I just had to smile. I’m stressed these days, with lots of work and that same amount of time in each day. Yet I enjoy my work, my writing and thinking and my exercising. I know the stress makes me more productive as long as I don’t go into the nutty range.

So here’s to long balanced and productive days, just short of nuttiness. The Google video below inspires us all to find our passion, to be inspired and inspiring to others. This is your one shot on Earth, man, make the most of it!



February 22, 2012

Advice to a Younger You
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

If you could give some advice to a younger you (say 10 years ago), what would you say? That seems a wonderful question to me, one that helps us probe into that area of priorities and what we really know or don’t know. It’s a “Big Question” question.

I saw the question above posted by a friend on Facebook and without giving it too much thought, I responded,

Relax. Put in a good effort then let go of the outcome. You own the effort but not the results.

A quote from Henri Nouwen, a truly wise man, says it better:

To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be non-possessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to.

On the other hand, I laughed out loud when I saw our son Lex’s  advice to his 18 year old self

stop freaking out. you will get laid. eventually.

Of course, there were the pedestrian responses about buying Google stock or PUT THE DONUT DOWN.

So what advice would you give to your 10 year younger self?

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