John Bain | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

John Bain


John Bain is executive vice president of national operations for Onyx+East, a residential home builder based in Indianapolis. Before joining Onyx+East in December 2017, Bain served as the president of the Indiana division of R.T. Moore Company, a plumbing, HVAC and mechanical contractor serving multifamily and residential markets. Bain helped grow R.T. Moore’s revenue to $100 million in 2017 and triple the company’s total number of employees. At Onyx+East, Bain is responsible for development, construction and strategic sales goals within all Onyx+East markets.

The Mistake:

I created frustration within our teams.

I’ve been pretty fortunate to get a few more things right than wrong, but mistakes have been the foundation for my success. The one that stands out the most was when I started early in my career being really focused on the big win, trying to make massive shifts or pivots or movements. I have come to learn over time that there are few instances where that’s actually the right strategy.

I was maybe too far down the path and not bringing people along. That was probably one of the biggest mistakes early in my career.

When I first stepped into leadership, I was given a large project that had a lot of moving parts and pieces. It was really my first cross-departmental project. It was important that I be able to gather buy-in across multiple working groups.

I approached the project with the vigor of going above and beyond. I did not take into account the idea that it’s great to have a big, bold vision, but it must be executed in small steps.

That particular project led to me not bringing the team along with me. It created a lot of frustration and ultimately did not get the end result we wanted. Where we got to was very painful getting there. That was one that really just stood out when I took on leadership and had bigger initiative working towards a big goal.

You have to have a big, bold, compelling vision, but it is executed in small steps.

The Lesson:

You have to have a big, bold, compelling vision, but it is executed in small steps. I’ve learned the value of going slow to go fast. You really have to gather the buy-in of your team as a leader and leverage persuasion and influence in order to move something forward.

The idea is to focus the team on centering on the next right step and hitting it with a high level of focus and intensity. The other other key thing is it gives you an opportunity to measure progress. You begin to gain momentum along the way. It gives you unique opportunities.

Early in my career, I missed not celebrating small victories along the way that were infusing excitement and momentum. When you focus on the next right steps and attack with intensity, it gives you the opportunity to celebrate those successes with your team. It builds more buy-in and momentum.

I have changed my leadership style a lot. That is how I approach personal development as well. Can I get a little better each day and move the ball downfield a little bit each day? That’s how you get to achieving those big visions and bold goals that you have. 

Follow Onyx+East on Twitter at @onyxandeast.

Pictured is John Bain. | Photo courtesy of Onyx+East.