The Three Bricklayers: A Study in Attitude, Training, and Leadership
The Owl and The Beetle: Thursday Memo
Leadership is like a journey, not just for the leader but also for those who are being led. It's about understanding, guiding, and inspiring others to achieve their best. A great example of this is seen in an old tale about three bricklayers. You can find many variations of this tale with a simple Google search. However, this is my take on this classic.
The Tale of the Three Bricklayers
Once upon a time, there were three bricklayers. When asked what they were doing, the first bricklayer replied, "I'm laying bricks, just as I have been told.” The second one said, "I'm raising a wall to make a living and feed my family." But the third one declared, "I'm building a cathedral!"
All three were doing the same task, but their perspectives differed.
The Power of Attitude
The three bricklayers had different attitudes toward their work. The first saw it as a mere job and was following orders. The second had a clear goal, feeding his family. The third was working inspired by a meaningful mission.
This significantly influenced their motivation, satisfaction, and performance.
In my career, I've worked with colleagues representing the three unique bricklayers types. If I reflect carefully, I have to admit that I've shown these three attitudes at different stages of my career myself.
You can spot people around you who embody the three attitudes I just outlined. They either work on command, pursue a goal, or follow a mission.
The Limits of Training
While skills can be taught, changing someone's attitude is a more complex challenge. Training can lead a person how to lay bricks or build a wall, but it can't instill the vision of creating a cathedral. This is where the true power of leadership comes in.
You can hire for skills, but you will mostly fire for attitude. You should choose your collaborators based on their behaviors, not just their abilities.
A few years ago, I led a team of software engineers who, on paper, were at the top of the game. All of them had a solid track record and technical pedigree. However, a few individuals in the pack were demonstrating less-than-ideal behavior and didn’t want to collaborate with the newly established hierarchy. Their technical skills made them into the team; their behavior forced me to show them the door.