The Leader’s Vision: Before and After

Leaving the Nest

Recently, I experienced a 25-year “experiment” come to its conclusion.

The “experiment” was in raising up 5 kids to adulthood and getting them prepared to leave the nest. My wife and I had our 5 kids close together (5 kids in 5 1/2-years) and, as of this month, all of them are now in college.

Recent History

Tom Schulte and Kids

Tom Schulte and Kids

Our oldest child left the nest at age 19 and her independence, determination, smarts, and acumen have paid off for her. While still in college, she has been a full-timer at IBM and is now in the marketing department at Coca-Cola headquarters. As she is finishing up her last classes, her brothers and sisters still have a ways to go.

This fall my youngest, twin daughters, have entered college and their two brothers are both Juniors. As it turns out, mom and dad have just become empty-nesters. This means that this summer has been full of planning on getting four young adults into their own new dwellings.

For my wife whose passion is interior design and decorating, this has been an exciting time that has really made the transition a lot of fun. She gets to “play house” with her adult children and provide them a mother’s comfort for the coming years. At their new dwellings, everything ‘flows” in coordinating style and functionality from the welcome mat at the front door to the soap dish in bathroom to the spoon rest on the stove.

Divine Design

Daughter's New Place

Daughter's New Place

All of our kids love to interact with her in home design and decorating and these past few months have been amazingly fun for all involved. They worked hard at summer jobs to help pay for much of what they get. I am also intimately involved and share my wife’s passion for creating beautiful places, so everyone is having a blast.

From our point of view, we get to give our kids the gift of their own sense of home as they face life’s new experiences.

This past weekend, we helped our son Michael finish decorating his place at Berry College. His twin sisters had just moved into their own separate apartments in another college town and their places look wonderful. They both are feeling very much at home.

Michael is a residence assistant (RA) at his college “apartment.” He has been in the standard dormitories the past two years, so this new free-standing unit was exciting for him. These are slightly older buildings and his unit didn’t get the annual interior paint job this year, so we had our work cut out for us in helping him make him feel cozy and try to mimic what was created for his sisters. The “Before” pictures show it was not too homey when we got there.

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Resident Leader in Training

As RA, Michael is responsible for keeping the resident students in check and making sure that everything runs smoothly throughout the year. While we were hanging curtains, pictures, posters, and more, Michael was mentally preparing to lead an upcoming meeting for residents that night at 8pm. Most of the residents are older senior students and he has to manage their housing and conduct throughout the upcoming school year.

His meeting was a “pre-season” pep talk to set expectations and he was trying to mentally prepare as we worked to make his place nicely decorated.

Michael has been the reluctant leader his whole life. His passion for Christian ministry since the third grade has always made him a humble servant, so the potential “glamor” and shine of leadership has made him a wary candidate for leadership “positions.”

But as his Junior year starts, he is stepping into all of his new roles well and is quickly learning how to balance the leadership positions he takes with the inevitable spotlight that comes with it.

So as we worked to create the best new “home” environment for him, he discussed his upcoming meeting with me. I counseled him to take the point-of-view of the audience when he was designing the session.

I told him that his message would come across better and would stick with them if he spoke to them in calming and comforting tones. I told him to build the same sense of home in the minds of his audience that were just like the sense of home that he was feeling by getting his place decorated. I told him that if he creates a warm environment, that he is much more likely to gain their interest and respect.

Setting Expectations

This will be his second year as an RA and as the resident “cop” that has to “bust people” when needed. But in contrast to being the authority figure, he wants to get along with everyone too. He is on the basketball team, so that helps him get respect. But the self-perceived notion of being a “humble guy” is always on the forefront of his mind.

He wants to seem fun, cool, the jock, etc., but he still has a “cop” role to play.

So for his meeting where he was younger than most of the attendees, he decided that the best way to go would be to have some fun, get people talking, and spell out the rules in a good way that shows he is setting expectations for behaviors.

As we wrapped up decorating his new place (that he and his roommates adore,) he did his short meeting and reported back the results of the meeting to me. He said that he told everyone that he “wants to be cool, not too strict, and available for them when needed.”

But he also told them that he has “a strong sense of integrity and would need to do his job as a professional and take them to task if he had to.” He said that the meeting went great and that he was getting very comfortable in his role as the leader.

The Leadership Lesson

I summed up our conversation for him with this idea:


When dealing with people, understand that they often are viewing the situation, their job, their new assignment, or whatever as if it where the “Before” picture. Simply understand that they may not be comfortable with things as they presently appear and that you are going to have to effectively communicate the “After” vision to them.

Then, build them that beautiful picture in a manner that works for each of them and help provide that same homey, comfortable feeling that you got with your newly decorated place.

AfterAnd again, remember that some people may not get the vision at first, just like when your roommates entered the redecoration project mid stream and didn’t understand the final results just yet. Know that people are different and have differing rates of understanding and different ways to process information. Just keep going with the project and build that feeling for them all.

Building effective “Before” and “After” pictures for your followers is the recipe for success in building a strong team of people who willingly follow to a better place.

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Tom Schulte is Executive Director of Linked 2 Leadership
He provides leadership training fit for the Blackberry-Attention-Span

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