Is your team building a cathedral?

There are several versions of this story about three stonemasons and several ways to interpret its timeless lessons, and we’ll leave the interpretation up to you.

But here’s the story.

Once upon a time, a man came across three stonemasons and asked them what they were doing.

The first stonemason said that he had the hardest job in the world. “Every day I have to move around huge stones to make a living.” He was simply doing a day’s work for a day’s pay.

The second one did not complain as much and seemed focused on his work. When the passenger asked him what he was doing, he replied “I’m earning a living by doing my best job at cutting stones in the entire county. Although, the work is hard, I’m satisfied with what I do and I earn enough to feed my family.”

The stonemason believed in a drive for quality and results. His world was competitive, measuring himself against the “whole county” as the story has it. Yet, this stonemason failed to see that there would be no stones to cut if there were not a community building a cathedral.

When the passenger met the third mason, he noticed that the man had sweat and dust on him but looked happy and was singing a cheerful song. The traveller asked “What are you doing?” The stonemason looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “Can’t you see? I am building a cathedral.”

The third stonemason clearly embraced a broader vision. The work of stonecutting was to him part of a far larger undertaking, a dream to be realised.

This story, made famous by Peter F Drucker in his book from 1954, ‘The Practice of Management’, remains a powerful illustrations of the challenges faced by leaders: how do you create the environment within which your people are motivated to reach beyond the task and connect with the broader vision?

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