Leadership Lessons From Painting

Jun 23, 2010
5 Min Read

This past weekend, we painted the first floor of our new house. The entire process—from prep to the actual work to the clean up—took about five days. The prep alone took an entire day—gathering materials, taping the edges, and priming the walls. That first day was intimidating and difficult. I questioned whether this was too big of a project to take on ourselves. I was hesitant to get started, but when I faced the reality of keeping the room the same color, I quickly changed my mind because that color was not an option.

Because painting was something new to me, I was afraid of making a mistake. This fear was compounded by the fact that the old owners had done a less-than-stellar job of putting up the paint that was there – color was splotched on the baseboards, the cabinets, and the ceiling.  And I wanted this new coat to turn out perfectly. So I worried when the tape didn’t stick. I panicked when the walls looked streaky after the first coat. I winced when the old color was still visible after the tape was taken off.

Now? It looks great. Looking back on it, getting started was the most difficult part. The painting part was actually very easy and quite fun. Of course we made some mistakes, but those mistakes were easily fixed.

Leadership Lessons Learned

  • To cope with change, compare and contrast the current state versus the end result. When your team is having trouble getting on board for change, communicate the big picture and long-term vision. Focusing on the end result—visualizing how much better the new color would look than the current color—helped me get over my apprehension quick!
  • Worry during planning. Worry before closing the lid. Do not worry while doing the work. Stressing out about the outcome prevents us (and those around us) from getting into the flow of things. Do your best to foresee difficulties and plan for challenges, execute to completion without hesitation, then double-check for errors and evaluate areas for improvement. Fretting that the walls were going to be streaky prevented me from noticing how relaxing it can be to just…paint.
  • Differentiate mistakes versus failure. Especially for those with perfectionistic tendencies, there is a fear of failure that results from thinking mistakes will lead to catastrophies. But failure usually isn’t fatal. Not all mistakes can be foreseen or avoided. Grabbing a mini brush and opening up a can of white paint fixed any error within minutes.
  • You don’t know before you know. At one point, you never knew how to do anything, but you learned. Be patient with yourself if you are new at something; coach others through if they are struggling. Before the makeover, painting was not within my skill set. But pushing past the point of incompetence led to knowing how to do one more thing than I did last week.

Making a mistake (or twelve) is better than not doing the job at all. That sounds so obvious, but how often does fear stop us from doing something new? And how often do we worry about small details that we don’t have control over?

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