During his 16 years in the military, Lake Greene, production manager at Benson Builders, in Virginia Beach, Va., learned a lot about managing teams — and difficult teams at that. As facilities manager for buildings — more than 500,000 square feet of training facilities — Greene was the liaison to all civilian subcontractors. In addition, he was assigned a challenging team of young Navy personnel to lead and manage.

“Basically I was given the people who were having problems — drugs, alcohol … disciplinary issues,” he says. Aged 18 to 23, these people already had experienced their share of failure. Many of them came with heavy baggage and negative attitudes.

Greene's job was to keep people in this group employed and productive until they were released from service or moved into a different position. “In some ways, it was easy to be a positive influence because so many people had treated them as losers in the past,” he says. “One of the most important steps I took was to not judge them because of their previous mistakes but to give them a fresh start and expect them to succeed.” From there, his process looked deceivingly simple: Greene made it clear that he trusted each person on the team until he or she gave him a reason not to; he assigned specific responsibilities to each staff member; and he provided positive feedback.

As each person collected a string of successes, Greene increased their responsibilities and decreased his oversight. He also showed them why excelling at the task was a good thing for each of them. “I'd tell them, ‘Hey, the chief notices this stuff, so be sure to get it gleaming so it really catches his eye! That'll show him how hard you're working.'”

Another technique Greene used to build confidence was collaborating with his superior officer. “He'd come to our offices and, in front of the entire team, would compliment me about how nice the buildings looked. Then I would immediately turn the tables and say, ‘Thank you, sir, but it's not me at all. It's officer Bryan over there; he's the one who worked so hard on this.' I made sure that I immediately passed the credit on to the team so they got the pats on the back from the chief. They were proud of their work, so they just glowed.”

Greene says he learned three things about managing others: “It's all about repetition. You can't tell someone something once and expect it to stick. You have to tell them again and again. I also wanted to like and understand the people I worked with. The more I knew about them, the more I could help them with some of their problems. And I always reminded myself that it's not about the leader — me. The team manager already has been recognized and risen to management. It's about making your team look good.” — Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Laurel, Md. 301.490.5620; www.remodelersadvantage.com.