Saturday, July 13, 2013

Thought of the Day: Leading by Doing Really Works

I like to keep things interesting on my blog. That's why I post on a wide variety of subjects from technology, my PhD research, success tips, and so on. Today, I want to discuss a thought that I just had: Leading by doing really works.

Everyone who lives in my house, including myself, tends to be very busy, so household chores tend to be left undone. You got it: floors don't get washed, the oven is a dirty mess, etc. My girlfriend has even commented that if a health inspector ever visited my house, we'd get shut down. It's a good thing we don't run a restaurant out of the kitchen, or we'd really be in trouble. Even our landlady complains that people in the house don't clean, and she's come to the house on more than one occasion to clean. I've cleaned the kitchen and common pantry floor myself, but no one in the house saw me cleaning when I was cleaning. Of course, I told the landlady about it, and she gave me a small discount on one month's rent. But I digress...

This morning, after eating breakfast, I took one look at the absolutely dirty oven and stove, and I decided I had enough of it! On a whim, I decided to start cleaning them. I looked under the kitchen sink and found a couple bottles of oven cleaner that my landlady left there, and I started spraying away inside the oven. I had to come back because the cleaner instructions said to leave the stuff soaking for 5 to 15 minutes, and to preheat the oven to 200 degrees before applying. I didn't read the entire instructions before I began reading the spray. I later regretted that when I decided to turn the oven on after giving it an initial wipe. The stuff vaporized and made me cough so hard that I had to leave the room. Even with the kitchen windows open, I had to stay away for several minutes because I only started coughing again if I reentered the kitchen too soon.

Now, what does this have to do with leadership and the whole idea of "leading by doing"? Well, my project took so long that my housemates started wondering what was going on. They finally started getting up on this fine Saturday morning, and they saw that the kitchen stove was in pieces. When I came down, one of my housemates asked me what happened, and I told her that I decided to clean the stove and oven on a whim. She thanked me as she continued preparing her breakfast, and I mentioned to her that I know we're all very busy, but we should have a house cleaning party. She mentioned that it would be a good idea when people were on a break from school. Another one of my roommates came down, and he noticed that I had been cleaning the kitchen. He thanked me for doing that, and I mentioned to him that I found charcoal in the oven. This was not charcoal that you buy from the store, but it was food that had been left in the oven and allowed to bake so many times that it turned into black charcoal. What a mess!

This is the part that made me believe that leading by doing really works. Remember that each times I sprayed a surface with the oven cleaner, I had to wait 5 to 15 minutes to let it soak. I must have done this three times with the stove burner plates (or whatever you call them). I swear those things must have never been clean because they had a thick layer of black soot that had literally been baked on over and over.  To pass the time, I decided to shave my face take a shower. When I came back, another one of my roommates was in the kitchen preparing her kitchen. She saw me putting latex gloves on, and asked if I was cleaning, as she thought it was the landlady who was cleaning. After I told her that I was cleaning, she asked how she could help. I suggested that she finish cleaning the stove countertop while I try to get the rest of the blackened gunk off the stove burner plates. I eventually gave up on the burner plates and decided to wipe things down and put them back together. However, when I left, she was still cleaning. She even cleaned a cutting board that I splashed gunk on accidentally. I didn't ask her to help, as she saw that I was cleaning a community area. She decided to help me on her own free will.

In short, that's the power of leading by doing. If you want people to do something for you, you need to actively take part. You can't sit around passively and expect other people to what you want them to do. You need to be actively involved.

Finally, I wish that I had taken a photo of the stove and oven before I started cleaning them. Unfortunately, I hadn't planned on cleaning for the sake of writing a blog post on leadership. The thought simply occurred to me as I headed back to my room.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University

Walking to the Sky: A Statue at Carnegie Mellon University that I like
to think represents leadership and lofty goals.