Learning to be a Better Leader…One Board at a Time

This is a post I wrote for onemoneydesign.com

I grew up a little different than your run of the mill American. When something broke in our house, we fixed it. Doesn’t matter what it was, we fixed it. I was probably the only kid in my third grade class that knew how to change out a flapper valve, understand the difference between regular and galvanized nails, and could swap out an oil filter! Seriously! At career day in elementary school, I had no idea what a plumber, mechanic, or electrian was–those people all went by the name “dad”. (Can I get an amen in the comment thread from everyone out there who grew up like I did!?!) Anyway, to understand today’s post you have to know a little bit about cutting boards…so I will do my best to make it sensical for everyone who didn’t grow up quite like I did.

When you are cutting a board with a circular saw, you have to do a couple things at the same time to get the result you are hoping for: a clean, straight cut. First, you draw the line. You make your marks on both sides of the cut, draw a clean line, then pick up your saw. Now, here is where it gets tricky. You have to do two things at the same time to get a straight cut.

1. You have to constantly watch the line out in front of the saw and…

2. You have to constantly watch the point where the blade is intersecting the board.

Both things must be done at the same time. If you stare out in front of the saw–looking only at your guideline, then your blade will get off. Your cut will look like the edge of a lasagna noodle. Crooked. At the same time, if you stare constantly at the blade and never look out in front of the line, then you will get the same result, a crooked line.

Right now, you might be wondering if you have accidentally stumbled upon a DIY site, but I promise: There is a huge lesson in leadership hiding behind this simple example. As leaders, we naturally we swing the pendulum to one side or the other. We either: constantly look towards the future (and neglect the day to day necessities), or we only look at the daily operations (and totally neglect our future vision).

VISIONARIES: These people stare at the line out in front of the saw. They are creative, innovative, and think outside of the box. They have great ideas, but struggle desperately to execute on a daily basis. Details are not their strength. While they might have great ideas, they struggle to get the saw from point A to point B. They only stare out in front.

PRAGMATISTS: These people stare at the saw intersecting the board. They are excellent details people. They are great planners and strategic. They can get from point A to point B–it’s what they do. The struggle with this population is that they are often driving to a point B that is totally irrelevent, out-dated, or illogical. They are great at day to day operations, but often lose sight of just where they are trying to get to in the first place.

Everyone leans one way or the other. To be a good leader you have to recognize which way you lean and strive for balance. If you are a visionary, strive for discipline and day to day balance with details–look down. If you are a pragmatist, strive to set appropriate and purposeful goals–look up. And, if you are looking for the icing on the cake, try to work closely with someone who compliments your leanings. Team up, and build upon each other’s strengths.

(I have to give credit to my pastor for using a variation of this analogy in a recent sermon. Thanks, Rick)

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