I was very fortunate to start my career in residential drywall. Whenever my neck kinks up, I think about the hanging partners I worked with. George, my older and wiser partner, taught me how to pace myself. Mike taught me how to negotiate a better footage price and Jim taught me how to maximize my income by selecting the right job.

When I started hanging, the average price per foot was between $.04 and $.06 per foot. Today, in my area I hear footage prices ranging between $.14 and $.16. Knowing that a good footage hanger can hang 40 sheets per day, (eight-plus hours) this equates to roughly $290 per day or roughly $1,450 per week.

Considering a 25-percent tax bracket, a worker's net check at the end of a week is roughly $1,000, less any other deductions that might apply. Keep in mind we're talking about hard-working, consistent hangers or for that matter tapers-all of whom have chosen to make their living working footage. Footage workers have families, mortgages and car payments just like everyone else. As well, union workers who are paid hourly have the same living expenses, hopes and dreams as does the footage worker or for that matter, the owner of the company.

I remember those footage days when I had to install backing because the GC wasn't on site. I remember having to straighten studs, find light boxes buried in insulation. I also remember having to go back just to hang a few sheets on a plumbing wall that wasn't ready to cover. I remember how badly these delays affected my paycheck at the end of the week. Even if my boss was willing to pay me hourly for backing or for having to go back to a job to hang a few sheets, I couldn't recoup what I had lost.

What I disliked most about working footage had more to do with who signed my paycheck. In most cases, the owner would tell me that he couldn't pay for the backing I installed or for the time I lost having to go back and hang something that wasn't ready. It's demoralizing to learn that your employer doesn't value you enough to fully compensate you. If company profits are largely based on the character of its employees, then is employee compensation largely based on the character of the employer?

The future is now

I'm amazed at how some employees and employers view one another. As an employee, would you allow your employer to evaluate your character and leadership ability? What is the difference between an employee and employer? Employers and employees hire on to perform specific tasks, both of which are jobs they feel they are capable of doing. Personally, I don't see a difference between employers and an employee other than an employer is in a great position to influence employees either positively or negatively.

As an employer, if you choose not to pay your footage worker for having to install backing, you've chosen to influence the worker negatively. If you fail to pay your hourly worker a promised bonus for bringing the job in on budget, you've chosen to influence the worker negatively. In the eyes of these employees, your character rates a big fat zero, yet they keep working for you and somehow, and in many cases unknowingly spread their negative feelings throughout the company. As an employer, would you be willing to let your employees evaluate your character or leadership ability? Does an employer's character and leadership ability really affect the company's success?

The days of authoritarian employers are gone. Today's employers know that a company's success is directly related to its employees and how those employees view the employer and the company overall.

How are you viewed?

Politicians constantly take polls to see how they are viewed by voters. Employers on the other hand hope that employees view them as positive or as a "good boss." An employer, after making hundreds of decisions throughout the year, may step on some toes, hurt some feelings while making good and bad decisions. Employers oftentimes have to justify what they say or do to others and self but in the end, they really don't know how they are viewed and in some cases don't care how they're viewed.

An employee's view of an employer is critical to the company's overall success. Employees don't work for companies-they work for employers. Yes, employees work to make money but money alone will not satisfy an employee who's willing to follow a good leader.

A good leader is simply someone who shows people the way. He or she is similar to a conductor, escort or guide. Once an employee realizes their employer is a poor leader, the employee either starts looking for a great leader or stays put and stifled while unknowingly sharing his realizations with other employees.

What if I were to tell you that you could be 20 percent more profitable if your employees respected you? Ouch! The "R" word is a tough nut to swallow but I have to ask, do your employees respect you? If not, why not? Do they always tell you what you want to hear? Does having your employees' meet you for a beer after work make you feel like they respect you?

How to find out

I know I have some leadership weaknesses and strengths. I can't honestly tell you how I'm viewed by the people I work with. I guess I could ask but I'm not sure they would tell me the whole story. I work with a few people who have been with me a long time and I feel they respect me; however, these very talented people may see some flaws in my leadership that have stifled them.

My goal has always been to make leaders out of employees who can lead better than I can. In some ways, I operate like an athletic supporter. I give all the support I can and I take as much as someone is willing to give me. Last week, I attended a meeting in Los Angeles with 15 other leaders. After the meeting I concluded that management and leadership are two completely different issues. Management has more to do with systems and making sure systems are followed. Leadership has more to do with how a leader expresses himself.

Hilary Owen has studied leadership for the past 20 years. Her studies have taken her to Rome, Greece, North Africa and the Middle East. She has come to six conclusions about leadership:

• Leadership is about expressing the human spirit-the real source

of greatness.

• People express leadership when they demonstrate the best of themselves and others.

• No two individuals express leadership in the same way. Each one of us can be a unique leader, and that is why trying to put leadership into a box always fails.

• Leadership springs from anyone enabled and encouraged to express himself while working with purpose and meaning.

• People express leadership when they act as part of an integrated whole, and this works best when a web structure replaces the hierarchical structure.

• Leadership will be at the heart of all our efforts to improve our organizations and our world. It will require the courage that is at the heart of all leadership.

Effective leaders don't need training to convince their employees that they really care. Effective leaders sincerely display compassion toward their employees, and employees' respond positively and productively.

Tim Rhoades is the director of Lighthouse Institute, which provides in-depth leadership training and assessment. Contrary to the popular belief that leaders are born, Rhoades states, "Leaders are lifelong learners not necessarily born leaders."

The Lighthouse Institute summarizes leadership qualities using the word, PHAROS, an ancient Greek lighthouse and one of the Seven Wonders of the World:

• Purposeful

• Humble

• Accountable

• Relational

• Oriented by truth

• Service minded

I plan to attend the Institutes' 2005 training here in Seattle. I'm excited and apprehensive at the same time. I'm excited about learning how I can become a better leader and apprehensive about having my weaknesses identified. The Lighthouse Institutes' Web site can be found at www.lighthouseinstitute.us.

As you evaluate your customers, the subcontracts you sign and the risks placed upon you, your company and your family, consider that information an expression of your customer's leadership style and beliefs. Any insights into the beliefs of your customers will help you in determining your strategic plan for that specific customer.

I was very fortunate to start my career in residential drywall. It was a privilege to work with men like George, Mike and Jim. At that time in my life, I didn't realize I was learning leadership skills while stocking, hanging and scraping rock. I wasn't a great board hanger and I'm not a great leader but I do have great workers and great leaders on my team. I guess that reoccurring kink in my neck keeps me rooted and connected with great people who continue to teach me how to be a better leader.

Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contract!