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There are two types of leaders: architects and archaeologists.
Only one can see the future.
Architect-leaders can be identified by their level of confidence in their own abilities. They lay out their blueprint, map out their course, plan every edge and curve, draw thrice, measure twice, cut once. Everything is in front of them, waiting to be assembled.
But where architects go wrong is unfortunate. Their ambition is admirable, their energy is enviable, their vision is unmatched. But what they soon find out is that the structure they’ve been dreaming of building has already been standing beneath their feet the entire time. They just have to put down their pencil, pick up a shovel, and dig for it.
Archaeologist-leaders understand that there is already a magnificent work of art under their feet. They don’t know exactly where. They are humble. They don’t know exactly what. They are optimistic. And they don’t know exactly when they will find it. They are committed to the dig. Archaeologists don’t spend their time convincing you of their brilliance. They spend their time convincing you of your brilliance.
Most leaders tend to get caught up in their visions for the future. They default to architecture, leading their people to something far beyond themselves. What they forget is that leadership is, at the end of the day, fundamentally about their people, not their plans. As a leader, you must understand that the people you lead are already everything you need to reach the vision you set. When you encourage your people to reach outward, yes, they strive to become more. But they end up farther away from who they truly are. As an architect, you will have encouraged them to build a magnificent structure…on stilts.
As an archaeologist, you understand that people are who they are. And that is a good thing. When I see someone struggling, I understand that it’s just a snapshot of who they are at this moment in time. But it’s certainly not the blueprint for their entire life. My job as a leader is not to build a new structure for them or try to fundamentally change them, but rather, reveal the magnificent structure they already have within them. People often just need someone to tell them to dig deeper, not to look beyond. People often just need someone to believe in them, when they don’t believe in themselves.
When I walked into “the black hole,” I saw the makings of a successful restaurant in desperate need of help. The previous manager was an architect. But the restaurant didn’t need an architect. He tried to build a future for them. The changes he made were meant to build on top of what they already had. While he may have meant well, his efforts amounted to nothing more than complication, stress, and failure. He expected the staff to become what they were not. He was too focused on his plans, that he never took the time to understand his people. And the restaurant faltered because of it. The staff needed an archaeologist—a leader who brought a shovel to unearth them, and a brush to polish them.
When John Mosley coaches his junior college basketball team, he’s not trying to architect their lives. He’s not trying to sell them a new version of themselves or a shiny promise of the future. Every lesson he teaches, every word he screams, every workout he puts the players through, every heart-to-heart conversation he has with them is a concerted effort to reveal to those young men who they already are. They underestimate the power they have to make a better life for themselves. They’ve never seen the marble columns, the limestone steps, the perfectly measured walls, or the ornate design within them. Because no one, until Coach Mosley, had ever taken the time to help them dig for it. Up until then, they had taken their cues from society. And society had beaten them down. Only when they started to reach within themselves, did they begin to see their own brilliance.
My grandfather once told me, when I was 10 years old, that we are all just raw material, waiting to be sculpted. I never forgot that. He was a sculptor. And at heart, he was an archaeologist. He knew that everything we need is already within us, like the hidden city of Petra, like the Terra Cotta Army, like the Temple of Hatshepsut. We just have to dig for it.
If you’re going to be a leader, be an archaeologist.
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