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Prepare to Step Back and Admire Your Work

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

What does painting have to do with leadership? Directly, probably not much. Indirectly, here are some similarities I've been thinking about.

Preparation: the bulk of the work.

Recently, my husband and I painted our kitchen. We spent several weeks preparing. Brad replaced the ceiling and trim, expanded a doorway, and put in a new light fixture. Then we washed walls, mudded and sanded rough spots, taped the walls, and covered the floors. Phew!

Once all that work was done, we could finally paint. We only spent approximately 1 ½ days painting.

Maybe you’ve experienced what we experienced: the time spent preparing is at least quadruple the time spent doing.

When it comes to leadership, we spend months preparing a product, service, or event launch. Then the actual event, presentation, or product launch takes place in 1-2 days or even an hour or two. A mere drop in the bucket, compared to all the time we spent preparing.

Just like painting, the work of leadership is in the preparation. Preparing ourselves, preparing the work, and preparing the team.

There are usually hidden obstacles.

When deconstructing our kitchen, we were surprised to find that not only did we have to take out one ceiling, but behind it was another. Ugh! Twice the work.

Isn’t that the way projects go. We make a plan, do our best to prepare and think through, but inevitably there are hidden obstacles. Things don’t work as they should, they don’t go like we planned.

"No plan survives contact with the enemy." Helmuth von Moltke As leaders, we have to be ready for the unexpected.

It’s messy.

I probably don’t have to explain that painting is messy. You know that.

But, leadership, is that messy? You probably know that leadership is also messy.

Getting results through people is complicated. There’s a lot to manage: expectations, stakeholders, communication, motivation, feelings, egos, budgets, and more.

The quality of the prep work becomes visible in the end.

If you were to look at our kitchen ceiling from afar you might say that it looks awesome. But, if you look closely, you’ll be able to see where the mud on our seams is smooth and where we could have done better. In our case, the painting exposed the quality of our mud work.

Isn’t that true of our teams? When it comes to the actual launch of the work we are doing, the quality of the work becomes visible to more than just the team. Quality measured in terms of team relationships and dynamics, platforms used or built, processes, or how well the team was trained and equipped.

So how does this help us become better leaders?

1. Don’t skimp on the prep work. Whether you are the leader of a team or a leader within a team, here are some important questions to ask when doing the prep work:

· What is the problem we are solving? What are we NOT solving?

· Who is the work for? Do I know my customer? Have I aligned with the stakeholders?

· What is the scope of the work? Am I clear? Is the team clear?

· What resources, money, and people are needed? Do we have them?

· What is the time frame? Is it realistic?

2. Find the gem in the obstacle. Sometimes the breakthrough we need is right in the obstacle. The obstacle stops us. It forces us to think harder, to look closer, to press for more ideas and options. Persevering through the obstacle might get us to the breakthrough.

Once we removed the second ceiling, we discovered beautiful 120 year-old beams. The beams provided us with a perfect way to add character to what would have been a

boring ceiling. Yes, it was more work,

but it was worth it!

3. Expect things to get messy. Solving problems and creating new solutions isn’t straightforward. And neither is working with people.

When things get messy, take a deep breath.

Don’t take it personally.

Step back and assess, before taking action.

4. Quality matters, make time for it. Quality is enhanced when we have healthy team dynamics and relationships, opportunities to understand our customer or end user, and processes that help us iterate and learn quickly.

Some questions that will help us enhance quality:

· Who needs some genuine affirmation, encouragement, or support?

· How can we help the team communicate better? Have we created a safe place to share ideas? Have we given permission to fail and learn?

· In what ways could we get to know our customer better? To feel what they are feeling?

· How can we learn quickly and pivot strategically? What are our learning loops?

· What isn’t working? Why? Have we allowed time to dig into what isn’t working?

Whether you are at the start of a project, in the middle, or nearing the end, I hope you've found an idea that helps you make the most of where you are at. So that when you are done, you can enjoy the reward of... stepping back, and admiring the work the team did, the work you did, and how well they did it. Just like you step back and admire the work you did to paint a room.

Let's help each other out. Post what was most helpful to you in the comments!

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