Do you Have the Wrong Mission?

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I made a little change to the classic story about 3 men building a cathedral…

Working on a Cathedral

In the distance I see the construction site of a future cathedral. I approach the site and see three men laying bricks.

I approach the first man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am laying bricks.”

I approach the second man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am the world’s best stonecutter.” *

I approach the third man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am building a cathedral.”

* this is the little change…  😉

Who Are these Men?

The first man is clearly a day labourer and is not committed to the business, to his own personal development or to making society a better place.  He is not a leader and not part of a team.

The third man is focussed on making society better and feels that his work is a meaningful contribution.  He is a leader and part of a sense of team.

What about the Good Workman?

It is the second man that we must worry about.

This man is dangerous.

I meet many people who are like this second man. They are working on making themselves the best that they can be. The best manager, the best lawyer, the best gardener, the best architect.

Deciding to be the best that you can be at your job is a good thing.  However, it is not a mission.  It is not linked to an outcome that improves society.

It is possible to be the best stonecutter and allow a terrible cathedral to be built around you.  It is possible to be the best stonecutter and say nothing when you watch the plumber do a poor job with cheap tools.  It is possible to be the best stonecutter and watch the project fail around you and walk away saying “it wasn’t my job to look at finances, it wasn’t my job to make sure plumbing was done well… I did my bit”.  This is why it is dangerous for people on your team to limit their mission to being the best at their job.

How do you express your mission for your work?  Is it focussed on improving quality of life, or is it about being the best X?

 

2 Comments

  1. Really good insight on teamwork versus personal growth and contribution. Always aim to find the right balance. I will remember this one when I go to work on Monday! Thanks Conor – it struck a cord with me!

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  2. Conor, thank you for this. I like your line of thinking, and the need to see beyond your own contribution. On my blog I wrote that I wonder if the answer of the third man should be changed too in order to reflect this greater responsibility. For example, something like:

    “We are building a cathedral.” (while gesturing around to the other workers on the building site)
    “I am building a cathedral, in collaboration with the other workers you see here.”

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