Leaders must be ready to try new things

Late last month while my wife, Carol, and I were staying in Asheville, N.C., we decided to visit the Biltmore Estate. Only a couple of miles southwest of town stood what could only be called a castle. The building is the largest privately owned house in the United States and dwarfs the building featured in the television show, Downton Abbey. Built over six years from 1889 till 1895, 8,000 acres of green rolling hills surround the magnificent three-tiered structure. The French Broad River, which I rafted a number of years ago, splits the property.

Upon arrival we purchased our tickets and an audio guide for a self-guided tour. We started at station number one and pressed the button to hear about that location. The 90-minute tour had over 40 stops. Artwork by Renoir and Sargent adorned the walls. Furniture and tapestries dated to the 1400s. A 70-foot ceiling hovered over the banquet hall and elsewhere a bowling alley, an indoor pool and a two-story library were housed. We walked though the kitchen where when in its heyday, dozens of gourmet meals were prepared to the exact minute by clocks synchronized throughout the house. The house contained almost 180,000 square feet of floor space with 250 rooms.

What used to be the stables was now a nice restaurant and we were ready for some food after our lengthy tour. Will full stomachs we proceeded on to the largest of the many gardens on the estate. More than 250 varieties of roses filled the center of the walled garden. Orchids and other exotic plant species were housed in an adjoining building. The display was mesmerizing.

Finally we ended up at the winery, which was converted from a dairy barn. In the late 1970s, a French winemaster is hired who tended 150 acres of grapes. We tasted a few samples but alas I am not much of a judge of wines.

As we headed back to Asheville, a turn of the head could see the gleaming mansion on the hilltop. We stopped by the French Broad River and watched a couple flowing by in two small rafts lashed together. I knew the Biltmore was a must see for the area. My Mother and sister had visited it several times and always gushed about it. However, I did not look forward to spending a beautiful day in a musty, old building. Once I got there, the scene before me changed my mind. I was amazed at what could only be called a museum. The gardens, although fading in the heat, were certainly an amazing sight.

I guess the lesson here is sometimes trying something you may not expect to be of value can surprise you. I am glad I spent that day at the Biltmore despite my resistance. It was an experience I think about often. I saw things I had never seen before. Leaders need to seek out novel experiences. What we learn from such events may add to our perspective and enhance our thinking.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.