The Magnificence of the Big Picture
In 1855, Timothy Brown moved from Ryegate, Vermont, to Georgetown, New York. Shortly after settling in, he purchased a small plot of land and soon thereafter began building a new house. Having no previous experience with carpentry, Mr. Brown surprised friends and neighbors alike when he announced that he himself would be doing all of the construction work.
Surprise undoubtedly led to concern when he further proclaimed that “spirits from the great beyond” would be guiding his hands throughout the process and that his body would merely serve as the vessel through which those spirits would construct the new dwelling. There would be no blueprints. There would be no pre-planning. Each hammered nail, each chiseled angle and each erected board would fall into place only as the spirits guided him.
What followed were 10 years of irregular behavior not witnessed since the days when Noah built the great ark. Residents of that community tell stories of Mr. Brown standing still for hours amongst piles of supplies and lumber awaiting instructions from the spirit world. It is said there were times he would hover a chisel or hammer above the surface of a board until he was certain he had received clear instructions to proceed.
To Mr. Brown’s credit, the results are quite breathtaking. The house still stands and is now sometimes referred to as the “wedding cake house.” Its facade bears an ornate, three-tiered overhang where a flat, gray roof meets the outside walls. It is currently uninhabitable but this extraordinary structure was inducted into the National Registry of Historic sites in 2006.
A few years ago, I passed through Georgetown on my way home from a speaking engagement. I stopped to take in the view of Mr. Brown’s magnificent construction and I have to say it is quite impressive. Still, I cannot imagine what it must be like to take on any manufacturing project, let alone that of an entire house, without some kind of plan.
The Importance of Planning
As a print manager, I see thousands of projects come through our shop every year. Each project has its own plan, and there is a master plan that guides the process of planning. We have emergency plans, backup plans and contingency plans. We even plan for the inevitability of an interruption to the plan. It is no wonder that it was a printer, Benjamin Franklin, who first coined the phrase, “By failing to plan you are planning to fail.”
Anyone in leadership understands that a good plan is designed to yield positive results, control spending and reduce risks. But a good plan does not always guarantee a problem-free process. It was American aerospace engineer Edward Murphy who is credited with saying, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” In printing, we see Murphy’s Law at work almost every day. Machines break, paper or ink does not perform well, employees call out sick and clients make last-minute changes. A dark cloud of complications hovers over every good plan ominously waiting to send its lightning.
Good vs. Great Leaders
A good leader will always have a plan. But a great leader is a lightning rod. A great leader will not be frazzled when the plan falls apart. Great leaders enjoy their work. Great leaders take pride in their organization. Great leaders cherish their organization’s vision. Great leaders do not let the details confuse or corrupt the magnificence of the big picture. There will always be a need to “call an audible” (make a last-minute change) when things do not go as planned. However, a last-minute change does not have to be an unpleasant experience. The best leaders are the leaders who can go toe-to-toe with the unexpected.
I witness such great leadership from my employees every year as Messiah College prepares for its fall semester. Prioritization reviews and budget cuts have resulted in downsized staffing and the need to take on additional services. With sick days, personal days, holidays, medical leave, vacations and employee commitments to serve on various committees and attend training opportunities, we often find ourselves extremely lean. My supervisors have cross-trained all of our employees so that each of them can serve wherever the greatest need arises. Pressmen run copiers and wait on customers. Copier operators perform bindery operations and do order entry. Office staff provide delivery services and stuff mailings. Supervisors deliver mail and run production equipment.
Because we have a plan, we are able to continue day-to-day services without missing a beat. But because we have dedicated employees committed to the mission of Messiah College we thrive. We are able to take on additional services, we are able to exceed expectations and our clients are ecstatic. Our work is not just good, it is great. And when things do not go according to the plan, my team takes it all in stride.
Timothy Brown claimed he built an entire house without a plan. With no preconceived ideas, he said he allowed only unexpected information to guide him in his efforts. While I cannot recommend this as a business strategy I do believe we can demonstrate leadership by responding to the unexpected consistently with grace, creativity and determination.
A blueprint describes how a house will be built. A builder pours concrete, hammers nails and lays drywall. A leader manages these details and carries around a magnificent rendering of the completed home. When an error is discovered in the blueprints, when the concrete doesn’t set because the weather does not cooperate, when studs don’t line up or the drywall cracks, the leader pulls out the rendering and says, “Yes, it was a bad day but don’t you feel lucky to be a builder? Isn’t this house going to be beautiful when she’s done?”
In the same way, I watch the employees of Messiah College Press and Postal Services overcome the challenges of each day by being innovative in their work and serving with positive attitudes and integrity. They channel the spirit of the overarching plan that guides them in everything they do—the Mission of Messiah College. And I couldn’t be prouder.
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Dwayne Magee is now in his 17th year as director of Messiah University Press and Postal Services. His department was recipient of the 2018 IPMA Organizational Impact Award, the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award. Prior to joining Messiah, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. He is president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He is currently an English major (part-time) with a concentration in writing at the college where he works. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two boys and he resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife Sue and their two dogs. Contact him at: DMagee@Messiah.edu