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?
An effective statement of mission should be short, sharp and direct. It should fit on a t-shirt. Not a font 8 squeeze, but a legible font.
Every person who is involved should be able to articulate how their contribution adds to that mission. If not, then you don’t have a mission. You have a hopeful statement written by a board and not lived by an organisation.
A Mission Is Not About What is Possible Today
“Never start with tomorrow to reach eternity. Eternity is not reached by small steps.” John Donne
A mission is not guided by what we can do today, what we do today is guided by the mission. If you start with the believably possible, you won’t create a mission you will draft a plan. Martin Luther did not say “I have a plan”. If he did, he would have had the auditors and accountants with him, but no actual people.
JFK said “a man on the moon by the end of the decade”. That’s not a plan. That’s a mission.
Norman Foster has designed some impossible buildings…. and then the engineers have found new ways to build.
Creating Mission: Start from “what problem do you want to solve”? Don’t start from “what you know how to do”.
“Only 3 things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership” Peter Drucker
Mediocrity is effortless.
Excellence requires effort. Excellence requires a culture of excellence. In the absence of cultures of excellence I will find an excuse to let myself slip from my best.
Do you surround yourself with cultures of excellence?
“Great leaders create culture by design, while average leaders allow culture to evolve by default.” Mike Myatt
Are you clear on your values and purpose? If not, you are bouncing from one opportunity to the next. You take today’s good opportunity to lay bricks rather than building the great cathedral of your life. The clue to the existence of a clear personal culture is that you say “No” to most things. You are not bouncing from one interesting distraction to another interesting interruption.
The ability to start things is a good step towards a positive personal culture. The ability to finish things is the goal. Are you better at starting things than you are at finishing things? (I am. It takes real effort for me to declare a project finished.)
I have my own explicit written personal culture. I first wrote it down 7 years ago as I emerged from a very difficult time in my life:
I have a much updated version that I keep with me today. I don’t share it publicly, but have often shown it to those who have shared their own personal mission, vision and values with me. You can find my email if it is important to you.
“A family culture happens whether you’re consciously creating it or not. It’s up to you and your wife to determine whether that culture is of your choosing. If you want a positive family culture, you must commit yourself to years of constant planning and teaching. A culture isn’t something that’s created overnight; it requires daily investment.” Brett McKay
The family culture is the first culture we experience. Your earliest experience of co-existing with others was in your childhood family. If your parents were clear about their values; the behaviours that express those values, the non-acceptable behaviours; and the rituals that keep these values visible: then you had a great start. If your parents did not work to jointly define and live this family culture, you still had a culture… but with unclear and unsatisfying results.
There are 3 pillars of group culture: Values, Norms and Rituals.
Values – Each family’s set of values will be different and shaped by different education, religion and country values. Some families see competition as positive, some see it as negative. Some see position as giving rights (“You’ll do it because I am your father!”), some see dignity and agreements giving rights (“You’ll do it because we value kindness.”)
Norms – explicit and implicit rules of engagement. For example, how do we resolve conflicts? Shouting and passive-agressive stand-offs? Calm discussion and seeking to understand the other? How do we share chores? Does one person work while others sit watching? or does everybody find a way to help when clearing the table after a meal?
Rituals – routines, sanctions and celebrations. Family meals – are they in front of TV when each individual is hungry, or does everyone gather and share? Weekends, mornings, nights… what are the regular routines? Rites of Passage – what way do you celebrate the passing of the seasons, the reaching of an individual goal, the birthdays, the local and religious festivals? There are 3 levels of ritual: Daily, Weekly and Life Changing.
These elements exist whether you chose them consciously or not. There are no accidental cultures of excellence and meaningful community.
Resource: The Art of Manliness blog on Creating Family Culture:
The country in which you live will have a major impact upon your implicit sense of what is right and what is wrong, the right way to behave and the right way to treat others. Geert Hofstede told us that there are 6 major areas of difference between national cultures: it is worth knowing these 6 and where your own country is on each of these 6 in order to appreciate yourself and those who come from other national cultures.
Your personal, family and business cultures were not built in a day, and cannot be changed in a day.
Changing for the better is not a project. It is what life is about.
The first step is to describe your personal culture. The next step is to create, jointly with your family members, a description of what family means to them.
Mediocrity is the easy path.
The smarter you are, the better your reasons for being mediocre.
An inspiring life requires hard thinking, hard discipline and hard patience. Do you have the patience? Do you have the discipline? Do you have the desire?
Better the poor man with dreams and desire, than the great man with no dreams and no desire.
“The significance of man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain” Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam
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