Earlier this year, Victoria Downing and Mark Harari interviewed me for the Remodelers Advantage’s PowerTips podcast. Though PowerTips is intended specifically for owners of remodeling businesses, Vic and Mark were gracious enough to let me spend the entirety of the interview discussing leadership philosophy (one of my favorite topics).
Arguably, land use controls have a more widespread impact on the lives of ordinary Americans than any other regulation. These controls, typically imposed by localities, make housing more expensive and restrict the growth of America’s most successful metropolitan areas. These regulations have accreted over time with virtually no cost-benefit analysis. Restricting growth is often locally popular. Promoting affordability is hardly a financially attractive aim for someone who owns a home. Yet the maze of local land use controls imposes costs on outsiders, and on the American economy as a whole.
From The Brookings Institute comes an excellent description of the insidiousness of land use regulations. There’s a tremendous amount of negative that has trickled down from these regulations, and what benefit there has been accrues overwhelmingly to the large landholders and real estate development companies that either have the political clout to influence them or can sustain the overhead necessary to navigate them.
For the last year, the GuildQuality team has been building a new product called Crew. Unlike our core offering (which is for companies—specifically remodelers, homebuilders, and home improvement contractors), we’re building Crew for all the people who work in the field—skilled laborers and trades.
Our plan is to give every person working in our industry a free profile with which they can post pictures of their work, share their skills, and check in to job sites. Importantly, they can also endorse others and receive endorsements, and show up in location and skill-based searches.
While Crew is certainly a service that homeowners might be interested in, we intend to focus on serving professionals, i.e. general contractors who are always seeking talented workers and the skilled trades who are looking for work opportunities.
To give you a better idea of what Crew looks like, check out my own profile. Interested in finding a carpenter in Atlanta? Or a painter near Washington, DC? Try searching on Crew. And very soon you’ll be able to post jobs and respond to job postings.
The skilled labor challenges in our industry are painfully acute right now, and we’re working to ease that pain by shining a spotlight on the work of the best skilled laborers and trades out there. Moreover, by highlighting their great work, we can make it more obvious to ambitious young people that a rewarding career awaits them in construction.
Some members of our team (me included) were recently stuck on a decision, and that led to us getting stuck in a discussion vortex. After a couple weeks, we found ourselves scrambling to choose a path in the face of a looming deadline. We got it resolved, but that kerfuffle reminded me that there are always only four types of decisions.
From less to more involvement of team members, those decision types are:
1. Command – leader takes charge, asking no questions and just directing (mainly used in crisis);
2. Consultative – decision maker gets individual feedback from team members, then makes a decision;
3. Collaborative – team has a discussion, after which decision maker makes the call; and
4. Consensus – everyone has to agree or majority wins. This is only used for things like where to go to lunch.
90% of decisions are either #2 or #3. #1 through #3 require decision maker to be named before launching into the process.
Staying mindful of the four types is empowering for everyone who participates. When we aren’t mindful of which type of decision we’re making, frustrations can emerge. For example, people might think something is a consensus-driven decision, but others actually understand that it is really collaborative. Then people become upset because the decision maker simply made a decision without calling for a vote or without consensus being reached. But when we are mindful of the decision type, each person knows their role to play, and instead of trying to get their desired outcome, they are more apt to focus on fulfilling their role (giving thoughtful counsel).
Trust and a clear understanding of who is ultimately making the decision are big requirements for us to make good decisions and for everyone to feel good about the process. The participants need to trust the decision maker’s judgment, and also trust that the decision maker will thoughtfully consider their input.
Within a trusting team, choosing a decision maker is almost always easier than reaching agreement.
Thanks to Craig Johnson for introducing me to this idea.
Jaywalking came up in conversation recently, and reminded me of a wonderful book that devoted an entire chapter to the subject: James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism. That got me reflecting on all the other non-business-y books that have informed my thinking about business.
Through their employee handbook, Valve introduced me to the idea that an empowered work environment can work at a large scale.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, Matthew Crawford
A recovering philosopher and disillusioned think tank executive director decides to start a motorcycle repair shop. The book articulated an important idea that I now reflect on nearly ever day: extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation.
Scott shares six short stories of how anarchy (I’ll define anarchy as “emergent order without authoritarianism”) guides the overwhelming majority of human interactions. The book was a great reminder to me of the danger of top-down and the virtues of bottom up.
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
This book probably has the second largest number of attacks and dismissals penned by people who have never read it (the Bible holding the top spot). Rarely have I come across a critic who has ever opened it. Atlas Shrugged is a story about creativity, what it means to be creative, how that affects the world, and what would happen if we lost our creative people.
The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono
This very short and beautifully illustrated book follows a French shepherd named Elzéard Bouffier, from the eve of WWI through the end of WWII. It’s the story of what happens when vision meets consistent and deliberate action. Setting out to plant a garden is aspirational; Setting out to plant a forest is visionary.
Last week, Michael Tavani (of Switchyards and Scoutmob) visited GuildQuality’s headquarters to interview me for his On Doers series. I’ve known Michael via Twitter for years, and this was the first time I’d met him face to face. What a super guy. Thanks Michael. I am honored to be a part of this.
Some friends and I were recently discussing the CEO job description, with each of us sharing what we do everyday. The CEO role is different from that of a Founder, and I approach my responsibilities as CEO by viewing myself as Steward of the Tree.
Over the years, we have nurtured a tiny seed of a company into a healthy little tree. Our tree helps all sorts of creatures live their lives: it offers shade for customers, fruit for owners, and branches on which employees can build their nests. The leaves that fall during autumn decompose and fertilize the forest floor of our community. Our seeds scatter in the wind, take root elsewhere in the forest, and begin their own journey toward tree-dom.
Our tree is still young, and has plenty more room to grow. My task as Steward of the Tree is to help it fulfill its potential – to grow to maturity so that it’s impact is amplified many times over what it is now.
I can make reckless decisions that stunt its growth or kill it. I might push it to grow at a rate that’s ultimately unhealthy, and would cause its branches to weaken or would jeopardize it’s strength by not giving its roots time enough to dig deeper into the soil. Or I might be negligent or lackadaisical, so that other trees reach up and block our sunshine, and then our little tree will wither.
When I’m being most effective, there’s not really anything that I must do. The tree is just fine without me tending to it for a few days. But there is always something I could be doing: whether it’s pruning a rogue branch, inspecting a fungus, or simply learning about how to help trees be healthier.
If there’s nothing in particular that I need to do on a given day, rather than feeling lost, useless, or guilty about it (which I’ve come to learn is a common feeling among CEOs), I should feel some pride: I have helped a seed grow to a strapping young tree that doesn’t need my immediate attention. If the tree needs my constant tending—if I am fighting back blights or urgently toting buckets of water during dry spells—then perhaps I am tending it in the wrong way. That’s probably a signal that I could be doing a better job as a steward.
Our executive team recently finished The Hard Thing about Hard Things, and we spent a good bit of time on the one of the common themes in the book: the difference between “wartime” and “peacetime” CEOs. In growing our business through four years of a great economic apocalypse, every day certainly felt like battle, and I’m grateful to have shared that difficult journey with some incredibly talented and committed people.
Today, we may not feel so many immediate threats to our existence—we have enough recurring revenue, enough operating income, and enough cash on hand to withstand a great many blows—but insidious threats still loom. We are no longer battling to ensure that our tree survives until tomorrow or next month. Today, we battle to ensure that our tree is thriving years from now. The threats are less obvious and palpable (which makes some aspects of the steward’s job more challenging), but they’re still all around us. We must still combat our greatest enemy: complacency.
A handful of writings and people that have influenced my thinking about the CEO’s job:
The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono
How Andreesen Horowitz evaluates CEOs, Ben Horowitz (this post was also in THTAHT)
What a CEO Does, Fred Wilson
I first came across the “CEO as Steward” analogy from one of our customers, Scott Barr of Southwest Exteriors, an accomplished remodeler in San Antonio.