As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Hughes.
Robert Hughes is the director of construction at Canyon State Electric (CSE) and a veteran in the electrical industry with more than 10 years of experience. In his current role, Robert uses his expertise to lead and manage the pre-construction and project management teams, ensuring everything from beginning to end is running smoothly. As a leader, Robert works hard to create opportunities for his team to grow into leadership roles themselves as well as mentors his staff so they can grow in their careers at CSE. Headquartered in Phoenix, CSE is one of the largest commercial/industrial electrical contractors that services the southwest region. Robert has helped grow the company through implementing programs such as the BIM (Building Information Modeling) program which has been instrumental in keeping construction projects on time during one of the worst pandemics the nation has seen.
Robert is also very involved in the community. He participates in Umom’s Read To Me program and is currently a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Key Executive Program. Robert attended Southeast Missouri State and has completed the ICEW Apprenticeship Program at Gateway College and the Electrical Mechanical Program at Vatterott College
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up helping my dad do remodels and handyman work. The electrical aspect excited me, and I knew that was the industry I wanted to have a career in. I now have more than 10 years of experience in the electrical industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I first started, I drove my foreman’s truck into the hole of one of the footings for the building we were working on. The lesson I learned…don’t do that again.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve had a lot of mentors and people who have helped me along the way and continue to help me in my career and journey. It’s really difficult for me to pinpoint just one person. I will say that I continually try to surround myself with like-minded and driven people.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Although I didn’t start the company, my vision for our company is to be an elite contractor that separates ourselves from our competition by being innovative, solution oriented, and professional. Our purpose is to be our clients’ single source solution by providing all electrical, low voltage and service/maintenance needs.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
From my experience, during times of uncertainty or difficulty, it is important to always lead by example. I always say be a ‘duck’ — above water all is calm and good, below water a lot is going on trying to keep you afloat. I always involve my team when challenges arise and rely heavily on their thoughts and opinions. I find that bringing a positive and solution-based approach to any obstacle will always get you through it.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Yes, we all have the bad days when we wish we could just go live on a beach somewhere. However, it’s not in my blood to ever give up. When you’re in the mindset of giving up, take a step back and think of five things you’re grateful for and the accomplishments you have made. More than anything, I love what I do. I love helping others advance in their careers and push them towards higher goals than they ever thought they could reach.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Being decisive. You’re relying on research, thoughts from team members, past mistakes, and sometimes a gut feeling when you’re leading during challenging times. Once the plan is in motion, stick to the plan, continue to work the plan to make sure everyone is aligned, and adapt as needed.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Always be positive. Morale can plummet as soon as you bring a bad attitude and have a negative outlook. If you can get your team to think outside of the box, it helps them see the good and find new and creative ways to be successful. At Canyon State Electric (CSE) we work as a team to get through uncertain times.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Here at CSE, we focus on solutions, so when we do have to deliver difficult news, we communicate it quickly, but have our plan ready to let them know how we will get through this.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Although we are in unprecedented times, I would say it is so important to continue to do research and educate yourself. Learn from what others did or failed doing and do better.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My number one principle is to stay focused on the goal or mission. There may be a detour on our journey but the end goal is still there, and you work together to get back on track.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Poor communication with employees. They are part of the backbone of your company and it’s important to provide them with open communication from their leadership team so they can keep a pulse (good or bad) on the company they’re working so hard for.
- No plan or direction given. Although it’s easy to fly by the seat of your pants during difficult times, that very rarely pans out for the better. Having a plan even if it needs to adapt as the situation changes is essential.
- With the plan in place, not obtaining the input and alignment from your employees. Remember your employees are the backbone to your business and if you don’t have their buy-in and you’re not allowing them to give their opinions and insight, your “plan” might not go according to plan.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
We’ve had success from staying diverse. We have our foot in multiple markets and if we find one market is struggling, we focus our resources elsewhere.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Research and development. Working to always be innovative and do better from learning what your competition isn’t or has failed to do will make you a more effective leader.
- Have a plan. Again, going into something without a plan isn’t going to end well. Even if you have a plan that you need to adapt time and time again as circumstances change, have a plan!
- Create and follow processes to execute the plan. A plan is nothing without the right steps to execute it. Work with your team on the best processes to get through your plan and adapt as necessary.
- Constant communication. During turbulent times, you need to communicate a lot more often with clients, employees, and each other on the exec team than any other time. There is no such thing as over communicating in times of uncertainty.
- Continue to evaluate processes and adapt as necessary to execute the plan. What worked a month ago might not work now, and that’s ok but it’s important to be able to evaluate and come to the conclusion that it’s not working anymore so you can change it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The opposite of success is not failure…it’s not trying. You’re human, you’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them, adapt, and continue towards your goal in both business and life.
How can our readers further follow your work?
LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or just drive around town and see the Blue CSE logo on multiple projects.