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Women in LBM Group Shows How to Be a Leader Even Before You Win the Title

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Two leaders of a movement to increase the number and the power of women in construction supply set out a framework for advancement that begins with self-awareness and the development of a personal brand.

"Leadership is really not about a title," Dena Cordova-Jack said near the start of an Aug. 23 webinar on "Developing Your Leadership Brand" organized by the ad hoc Women in LBM group, which now claims about 200 members. "Leadership is about who you are, what you care about, and how you translate that into [what you do at] the workplace."

Sponsored by Kodiak Building Partners, the webinar was the first of several organized by Women in LBM to help their peers play a bigger role in construction supply. A Webb Analytics survey earlier this year of 150 of the nation's biggest LBM operations found women averaged about 20% of those companies' workforces. And while several of the biggest operations have women in top jobs--think ABC Supply, 84 Lumber, McCoy's Building Supply, California's Golden State Lumber and Massachusetts' National Lumber--males dominate the leadership ranks.

Cordova-Jack and fellow presenter Thea Dudley both stressed that developing a leadership brand starts with looking within, asking questions like "How are you perceived in the workplace?" and "How do you want to be perceived?" Take personality tests to get to know yourself better, they said. Self-audit how you present yourself online. Create a tagline that describes you, then use it in places like your LinkedIn profile. And design an action plan to get to the leadership brand you want--but make certain that your plan aligns with your values and priorities.

It's all part of what Cordova-Jack termed "strategic thoughtfulness." A fuzzy leadership brand--or one you don't want--will stall your growth and keep you in roles where you don't thrive, she said. But a powerful leadership brand can enhance your ability to achieve your career goals and help broaden and deepen your impact.

Dudley said a leader's value is a combination of personal strengths, talents, and behaviors. That differs from a person's reputation, which she described as what you want to be minus what you are and what you're known for.

Dudley said she keeps a folder with notes on people she admired. She said the strengths shown by those people helped her to capitalize on her strengths while "taking my weaknesses and turn them into something charming."

Both Dudley and Cordova-Jack have been in construction supply since the 1900s, and one thing that both said they learned is that they don't need to become one of the boys to get ahead. For instance, when Cordova-Jack worked at two major timber companies, she often was the only female in the room. "I adapted what I saw, but I wasn't embracing who I was," she said. Ultimately, she said, she developed a working personality that was true to her nature. Dudley recalls times when she forced to laugh at sexist jokes some of her male colleagues were telling. No more.

At the same time, Dudley urged the webinar attendees to "not be the mom in the room," cleaning up after sloppy co-workers, automatically taking on menial tasks at a meeting, or performing an office task for others because they haven't bothered to learn it. Sometimes, Dudley said, this will require that you and your peers create charts that show who's responsible for which tasks. That will help reduce the assumption that unpopular work will be put on your shoulders.

Leadership skills can be learned, but they also need to be earned, the two women stressed. As Dudley put it: "If you're waiting for someone to give you the sceptre and say 'Boom, you're empowered' ... Well, that's rare."

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