Here’s the picture
Three men are toiling in an ancient quarry, chipping away at the stone. When asked what they are doing, the first, rather morosely comes back with ”cutting out blocks of stone”. The second, working a bit more focused, replies with “getting materials for a mason to build a wall”. The third, whistling cheerfully as he works, responds with “helping build a cathedral”!
Do you recognise the story?
It’s one I was using many years ago as a Total Quality Management consultant. With the aim of getting senior boards of organisations to see the value of creating a link for employees between their own goals, values or purpose (not the word used at that time, though) and those of the organisation. And this concept has continued to run through employee satisfaction, employee engagement and team performance work to this day. It has persisted because it has value…has credibility…and there is evidence of its truth.
However, in a recent team growth conversation, I was brought back to musing on this idea. In my consulting past, I relied a lot on this story in the context of changing the culture of some very rigid business. Looking back, I have to ask myself how many coal miners that I spent time with would have actually held a focused link between their daily tasks and “helping provide power for the nation” or “creating warmth and comfort in homes”. Their focus was production quotas. In car factories, not many line workers would articulate “fulfilling a dream for someone” or “keeping the world independently mobile”. They had a shift to work, and targets to meet.
Were we wrong to hold out for this ‘impossible’ link?
No – far from it. The power, drive and commitment that comes from alignment between the goals or purpose of individuals and the goals or purpose of a group they choose to join, or associate themselves with, is clearly seen in many situations: in tribes; in community groups; supporter groups; volunteer groups picking litter, clearing stream and rivers; in self-managed work teams; with champions for a cause…etc, etc. The difference would appear to be something about size….the ‘distance’ between the individual’s goal or purpose and the greater one they can ‘see’ closely enough to find their alignment.
What’s the relevance of this to leadership?
It seems to me that there is a relationship system here: a relationship to develop between the individual and the team goals or purpose, and a relationship between the various team goals or purposes and that of the wider organisation. In this way, our human need for bonding and belonging (relatedness, in neurological terms), along with seemingly paradoxical autonomy and interdependence can all be met. We can find our routes to motivation and engagement.
Part of the role and function of effective leadership, therefore, is to provide clarity and transparency of how these systems – the teams, with their attendant goals or purpose – nest together to deliver the goal or purpose of the whole organisation. Thus leaving the individual with an ‘accessible’ goal or purpose to align with, safe in the knowledge that this also creates alignment with the bigger picture held by the organisation. This supports “The fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feeling in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people…” (1)
Within the framework of these nested systems, a team can create its identity, be clear about its mission or purpose, create interdependency of roles and responsibilities within the team working towards goals and milestones on the path to fulfilling its mission and its behavioural norms. All together, these help provide the glue, the engagement, the commitment that drives sustainable high performance in teams .
Interestingly, four decades before Goleman et al published Primal Leadership, this idea was out in the domain of workplace development: “Progress in the half-century ahead will continue to be the creation of mind rather than of hand; of stout hearts rather than stern measures” (2)
Perhaps it’s time now to seriously take notice!
Thoughts and reflections by Martyn Lowesmith, Team Development Specialist at Sky Space.
Martyn is a leadership, team, relationship and organisational coach with a global career spanning 30 years. He is based in Somerset in the UK and works with organisations, teams, partnerships and individuals.
He brings his experience and knowledge to all his work and continues to develop his own thinking around how to to support clients towards their potential and bring them into right relationship with humanity.
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(1) “Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence” Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee. Harvard Business School Press, 2002
(2) “Finding Your Job” Norman G Schidle First published 1921. Reprinted: BiblioLife, 2009
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