About 15 months ago my wife and I decided to build a house. It was a spur of the moment decision after we found a fabulous plot of land. We are now about 4 to 5 months away from finishing and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Many of these apply equally to leadership. Leadership like building a house involves declaring a future and making it happen.
Here are five leadership lessons (so far) from building our house.
#1 You can achieve big things.
We knew very little about building a house but with the help of the right people it has become very manageable. Leadership is not about knowing the right answer. It is much more about knowing the questions to ask and being open to getting the help of the people around you. Don’t be put off from pursuing an audacious goal.
#2 Recognize your limits
In contrast to #1, you can achieve big things but you must acknowledge your limits. These could be limits of knowledge, skills, resources, etc. We set a budget for our house which has forced us to make some trade offs to stay within it. It has also been easy to believe I know more than I do. To counter this I usually run my thinking past someone else to get a second opinion. Leaders have to create a picture of the reality they are facing.
#3 Make a plan and be ready to change it
Having a plan is very important but it is no match for reality. This doesn’t mean your plan is bad, the future is uncertain and you should expect things to turn out differently. You should be ready to make changes. While having no plan may sound more flexible, you will miss out on anticipating what could and probably will happen. This gives you a head start.
#4 Communicate and align on expectations (frequently)
Leadership involves bringing people along with you and when you are building a house it involves lots of different trades people. Things get complicated when the work of the various trades is interdependent. In our case, plumbing impacted HVAC which has had knock on impacts to the electricians. These changes are normal and the key is communicating changes frequently and clearly. I quickly learned not doing this led to numerous breakdowns which are costly to fix. This reminded me that my time was best spent coordinating activities instead of trying to pitch in and do things I wasn’t skilled to do.
#5 Be kind to yourself
Following on from #4, mistakes will happen and I find it easy to be very critical of myself. It helps to remind myself that things will go wrong. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put the effort in upfront to do things right but I can’t control everything and I will forget to do or tell someone something. We are all human. As a leader it is easy to be tough on ourselves and the people around us. It pays to be kind to yourself and the people you work with.
So far I am very happy how things are going with our house. I’ll provide another update as we get closer to completion.