Inspire a Vision, Then Stand Back!

This post shares a personal anecdote to make a point about Leadership Mastery, specifically the results of leading from vision in mastery, vs. managing in excellence. We recently moved to a new house that we are remodeling and renovating. The entire project gave me an opportunity to overcome my personal bad side (controlling, micro-managing, worrying), and gave me a chance to practice what I preach. An example of Leaderdship Mastery in action?Background: We live at home, and we also work at home. In addition, we exercise at home, and my audio recording studio is at home. We’ll do pod and video casting from home. So it’s not just a house, it’s headquarters. Upon moving in, we immediately needed: a new kitchen, a new mudroom, a new roof and roofline, two new offices and a meeting room. We also needed a master plan for improved deck, patio, planting, bathrooms, and for a fourth floor media room. Also, the offices and studio would need acoustic treatments for soundproofing. My wife Michele and I collaborate on everything, and we really enjoy design. But the stakes are high and the budget is never high enough! Plus, we’ve already got a lot on our plates. Would this put undue strain on us? It’s a very enlightening micro-case study.Managing from Excellence would have had us set big goals regarding scope, timing, and costs, do extensive due diligence, assemble and vet a crack team, closely manage the details, require hard work, seek efficiencies, confirm quality, confront unexpected crises, acknowledge emotional needs, and manage all of this against strategic goals based on our desired outcomes (multiple usage, business growth). Had we taken this approach, perhaps the team (architects, vendors, contractors, and sub-contractors) would have respected and admired us in the end, and maybe they would have feared us. We’d meet our contractual obligations, always act professionally, and maybe tip a few people. Either way, the job would be done on time, on budget and well. And it would have nearly killed me, and everyone who had to deal with me! The Excellence Trap would have extracted its inevitable hidden costs.Instead we chose Leadership Mastery, leading to an experience in which the ”only-do-it-if-you-have-to-because-it’s hell” of remodeling turned out to be a piece of cake, a delight, with better results at a lower price, and at a lower personal and business cost. How did we do it? By leading from vision; by inviting, enthusing, and inspiring everyone we worked with to participate in that vision; by encouraging them to bring their vision to the project; and then by getting out of the way! More specifically, we made the Five Shifts of Leadership Mastery.

Here’s the story, as briefly as I can tell it: The architect is not someone I would have chosen. I truly respect, like, and admire him, and I know he’s a terrifc architect. But we are very different people, with few shared interests or aesthetics, so the chemistry I’d want with a close collaborator wasn’t there from the outset. But he’s my father in law, so that makes him our architect, period. The contractor is a new friend of his, and his English isn’t so good. This was also true for his entire team (they’re legal Brazilian immigrants). I know nothing about contruction and remodeling, and tend not to come from a place of relaxation and trust in this area. To make matters worse, the location, floor plan and land are wonderful, but the previous owners’ lives had become complicated, and they had left this house, that had been the premier property in the area, empty and unattended for close to two years. Business, pleasure, home, family, in-laws, house, headquarters, expenditures, and investment all intertwined?!?! Pass me a Valium, right?

Wrong. Leadership Mastery saved us and transformed the process and the product. We found that our enthusiasm and discernment were infectious. We started with long conversations over meals about our vision, including our philosophy of life, what we seek to achieve, and the style in which we do it. We then had great conversations with our architect-Dad, contractor, and all other suppliers about our Monticello-like vision for an all in one “estate” reflecting the vision, goals, work, contribution, and philosophy of the owner(s). They got into it! They told us, over and over, that it was a breath of fresh air vs. the usual “planning sessions” merely about the needs (not vision), demands (not inspiration) and management (not leadership) of most of their other clients. They became a high performance team and went the extra mile many times over. They volunteered to reinforce our sagging deck for free, to install a new mailbox post , to replace all the trim on the house for the cost  of materials only. The new roofline cost 25% of what it might have, and looks great. The suppliers all spoke to each other; there were smiles all around.  We played Brazilian music in the background. And mind you, they worked HARD. They arrived very early and stayed late. There were no delays, and no surprise costs. The quality of workmanship was superb. More impressively, they suggested new ideas and solutions that were in the spirit of our vision. And all this without burdening us to either check up or check in while the project was being implemented. No clipboards, spread sheets, sleepness nights or arguments. It was even better than those remodeling TV shows where everyone is happy and rested all the time. And the outcome is superb. We have no bad memories. We have no stories about how we kicked a little ass and made draconian decisions. But we have darn nice new offices, kitchen, deck, roof, roofline, and master plan. We have a great team, and new friends. And we’re looking forward to phases two though four (actually, phase two has started. I swear: right NOW as I write this, there’s a guy on a ladder four feet from me, at the window, replacing a sill).Mastery Shifts. I’m no saint, as I mentioned, so I had to keep in mind the Five Shifts from the Excellence Trap to Leadership Mastery throughout this project. The five shifts are these:

1. From Effort to Energy. With everything else we do, any misplaced effort here would have depleted us and limited our effectiveness. It would have also burdened the team, and led to futher dpeletion as we attended to “problems” of our own creation. Instead, we exported our energy via the vision, and inspired and tapped into the energy of others.

2. From Proficiency to Expression. We had to avoid the trap excellence places in front of high-achievers: we could not gain the profiency necessary to do this job, or to even manage the real experts. To believe so would have been an ego trip and a pose, albeit a very common one. Instead, we expressed who we are and what we seek to be and do, and how they can be part of it, and bring their best self to it, and we reinforced it by our every word, gesture, and example. We lived the vision, and people got caught up in it.

3. From Expertise to Perspective. Regarding this project, our expertise is in design, including space design, but also life-design, experience-design, and self-design. But rather than get lost in the details and force them upon the team, we stepped back and merely shared our perspective at key decision points, discerning what was really at stake in any given situation.

4. From Commitment to Intention. Major projects take committment. But excellent people tend to commit to too many projects, and then wonder why either 1. they are depleted and their projects are overcome by entropy, or 2. everyone suffers as they extend themselves beyond all reasonable limits to impose their ego (not their vision) on events. Been there, done that. Intention, on the other hand, holds the vision, keeps the faith, stays the course, and adopts an attitude of “yes.” Intention is the partner to energy (as committment is to effort). And all ends well, even more well.

5. From Acumen to Wisdom. Acumen served us well, in particular to make sure that we were being well served by those around us. But we soon realized that our partners (architect, contractor, vendors, subcontractors) are not strategic adversaries to be outfoxed, and they can help us or hurt us in ways that we may never understand. Instead, we sought the wisdom to discern the rightness of things in every case. And our team noticed; the smallest decisions and perspectives gave us an opportunity to reinforce the vision and re-enthuse around it.The moral of the story is that Leadership Mastery is a frame of mind, an orientation, and a way of being in the world, of living. It sometimes asks us to put aside habitual behaviors and responses in order to get beyond the Excellence Trap and all its hidden costs. Ask yourself, during a big undertaking, do you lie awake at night feeling stoked, or worrying? If the former, you are experiencing mastery. If the latter, the Excellence Trap has you in a headlock.

A final note about hidden costs: a few of my old friends from childhood are in the building trades. They make their money from affluent white collar home owners, but it is common among tradesmen to think of their customers as adversaries who exist across an economic and cultural divide (with their opinion of their customers best summed up as “type-A yuppie assholes”), and sometimes for good reason. The suspicion goes both ways. Oddly enough, the homeowner takes pride in his or her achievements and home, and the contractor takes pride in his or her work. They are both excellent. They both value a well-done project and have a common interest in home improvement. Yet they are in implied and actual conflict, distracting from the vision, goals, and tasks at hand, and diluting their enjoyment of the outcome, substituting it with nonsensical “war stories.”  That is just one of countless examples of the excellence trap extracting and exacting its hidden costs. Once you taste mastery, the hidden costs of excellence are everywhere to be seen.

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