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“Clean up your own mess.” ~Robert Fulghum

I painted a few pieces of furniture over the weekend. Accent pieces: two stools, two captain’s chairs and a big hutch with doors and drawers.

While watching drips materialize out of nowhere—on the rungs of the stools and the edges of the hutch—I had an epiphany: Leadership (or anything that involves people and communication, which is basically everything) is a lot easier if you clean up your drips as you go.

The misunderstood glance, the sharp retort, the reactive dismissal—these are people “drips” as much as they are leadership ones.

The drips are particularly annoying and will catch you by surprise. Which means checking your work as you go, cleaning up the drips as they form, or wiping them away from unwanted surfaces before they harden.

Once they harden (think, the the bully manager), sandpaper (HR) is needed to smooth out the surface. And then, you still need to repaint that area anyway. Much more back-end work.

One needs to be watchful, careful, methodical, and look at the piece you’re painting, look at it from different angles and in different lights. Then you can see spots you missed, or drips that formed while your back was turned.

The thing is (and I’ve been painting a long time, so I know this for sure) cleaning as you go, smoothing out the drips, takes more time front-end.

The faster you try to paint, the more you’ll miss. Can’t paint well with a short-term mentality. Think dot com’s and the housing bubble.

Leaders: Fix your drips as you go.

Not only will you produce a better result, you make it easier for whomever follows you.


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