The following is an excerpt of Chapter 13 of my book, Learning Leadership Through Loss.
Building by definition is both a commitment and a process. You can’t build people, programs, or services until you fully understand your big why. Invest the time into discerning it. You need a clear purpose and maybe a mission. This clarity provides the focus to get you started and the drive to keep you going when the honeymoon ends. Rewarding as it is, building can be hard. It asks something of you that perhaps you’re reluctant to give.
Building requires passion, persistence, and plans. In most cases building cannot happen without support from colleagues, Boards, and community partners. Sometimes it takes money—more than you thought. Building is not for the faint hearted. I know.
There are potential road blocks to building anything: Bricks and mortar, emerging leaders, boards of directors, products, programs, and services. You are wise to identify these obstacles before you commence. If you do, you can save yourself and your organization a lot of frustration, disappointment, and time. Blocks come in the form of individuals, groups, circumstances, and personal limitations to name a few. As a leader, it’s your job to anticipate the resistance of naysayers. It’s your duty to proceed with definitive, step by step plans. It’s your obligation to ensure consistent funding. Stay grounded in realistic expectations for progress and results. Manage politics, morale, and fatigue. The truth is that blocks inherently exist with everything you build; it’s what you do with them that counts.
Having built several rather significant things throughout my diverse and lengthy career, I can tell you that there are obvious as well as obscure benefits to the act of building. I want to share these opportunities with you now:
Respond to an organizational, community, or global need. Responding to an existing need—internal or external—can bring great satisfaction to all parties involved. Through your efforts human beings receive something of value to them. Have your employees expressed interest in an onsite mentorship program to grow their skills? The entire organization in addition to the individuals involved profit from building one. Has your community talked about creating an after school program for elementary age children? By building such a program you keep kids off the streets and boost their self esteem, provide help with homework, and feed them at the same time.
Provide something people want. Unless you are prepared to lose them, you must find ways to retain your high potentials in the workplace. These people want to be fully engaged, and they expect you to invest in their professional development. If your company currently doesn’t have an employee wellness program and folks are asking why, consider building one. When the people on your payroll exercise, eat healthfully, shed pounds, and schedule regular medical check-ups, everybody wins. Designing that staff bonus program many have requested for years may serve as an ideal incentive for actualizing higher sales.
Do/Make something better than competitors. Whatever you decide to build, you now have the chance to do it better than anybody else. It’s an opportunity to excel and shine. You can break a record or make history. Whether it’s adding a service to your list of insurance offerings, constructing houses in a brand new neighborhood, or opening a shelter for abused women, you can ensure that YOURS stands apart from that of your competitors.
Foster cooperation and collaboration. If you think about it, building rarely happens in a vacuum. It usually brings people with diverse ideas and skills together to accomplish something distinct. The act of building allows everybody involved to contribute certain resources. This increases capacity, saves money and time, and reduces waste. By leveraging each party’s best, you strengthen your deliverables. Further, within collaboration a natural checks and balances system exists, and there is a broader understanding of the big picture.
Experiment. This may surprise you: Building a program, product, or service can be viewed as a stimulating, provocative experiment. Building is a highly creative process that invites you to celebrate your boldness and appetite for adventure. It lets you test a theory or assumption, discover what works and doesn’t, or demonstrate expertise and talent. Dare to build and watch yourself and others bloom.
Create community. Community may mean your team or your town. Building anyone or anything provides a laser focus that unites people through a common purpose. This unity generates initial and ongoing buy-in which leads not only to more folks promoting what you build but also more folks using it. With a sense of belonging, participants band together to form a stable support system for each other and a guard rail against failure. Creating community may be the most important key to success.
Suit yourself. Occasionally you need to build something that meets your specific needs instead of trying to make do with what’s comfortable or available. For example, get rid of a product that isn’t selling and build one that does. Or, clean out the dead wood from your Board and bring on people who demonstrate commitment to your mission. Perhaps creating your own employee evaluation process and forms is the best way to go. That way you’re sure to cover all that matters related to performance and behavior. Forcing a square peg into a round hole usually doesn’t work.
Immerse yourself in something bigger than you. One of the greatest beauties of building is the privilege to absorb yourself in something beyond the normal scope of work. Reaching for the stars, near or far, is an amazing experience. If you haven’t done it in your professional life yet, you must think of something that beckons you to realize it. Building can be a kind of calling. Sit quietly, and listen to your intuition to identify what it is you are to build.
What do you need or want to build? How can that person, program, product, or service make a real difference? When do you plan to start? What resources are both essential and desired? How can you jump over, go around, or manage potential road blocks to success?