Abraham Lincoln is popularly believed to have said that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend the first four hours sharpening the ax.
This story illustrates what Lincoln meant.
A man was once walking in the woods when he came across someone sawing wood.
He said, “You really look beat. How long have you been sawing wood?”
“Many hours,” the other man replied.
“The saw must be dull by now,” said the man. “Maybe you should stop and sharpen the saw.”
“Yes,” the other man replied, “but I don’t have time to stop to sharpen the saw.”
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey uses this story to explain what Habit 7, “Sharpen the Saw,” means.
Every person needs to balance four different dimensions of their lives and intentionally take time to sharpen the saw of each dimension.
1. The physical, which consists of the right diet and exercise.
2. The social/emotional, which is where we build and maintain relationships.
3. The mental, which is where we broaden our minds mostly by reading and learning new things.
4. The spiritual, where we connect with our purpose and mission in life.
The same is true for organizations.
They must ensure they have the right focus on the physical aspect of the business (i.e., products, services, clients, etc.).
They must focus on the social/emotional by motivating and empowering their employees.
They must focus on the mental aspect, meaning expanding the knowledge and innovative ideas of leadership and all employees.
Then there is the spiritual aspect, which is the overall sense of purpose and mission of the organization.
Oftentimes, when I see organizations struggling, it’s because these four dimensions are out of whack. Any imbalance between the four dimensions will produce a lopsided company.
For instance, if a company is highly sales-driven (driven by the physical), they only strive to make money, sometimes at the expense of their integrity. Eventually, employees become disengaged and start to leave.
A recent client I worked with is a great example of what happens when a company only focuses on one dimension.
Michael is the CEO of a very successful, family-owned business founded by his father-in-law. The company experienced serious growth, but because of a detrimental hiring decision, leadership lost its focus, and the company almost went under.
I was asked to come in and evaluate what the critical issues were that needed intervention and create a plan going forward.
In doing a gap analysis, I found what my mentor Roy Cammarano described as: “When the infrastructure lags because of high growth, it’s the herculean efforts of the people that keep things going.”
I found that there was a huge push for sales but very little understanding of having “the right people in the right seat on the right bus,” as Jim Collins explains in Good to Great. People were working very hard to keep things going but burning out in the process.
We instituted a better hiring process, in which we matched the job description to the strengths and abilities of each hire. Then, we did a full training for leadership, management and all employees. We shared with them, among other things, the importance of balancing the four dimensions and the mission and purpose of what they do. We spoke about empowerment down to each level and created better transparency and accountability across the board. It was very empowering for everyone to hear why they do what they do.
In privately owned businesses, transparency can be a challenge. But the company rose to the challenge and started to share critical information. We created a database with all current projects, and in the weekly meetings, we would go through many if not all the “big rocks” that everyone was focused on.
Making sure that your organization is fully aligned is no easy task. So what are some important things to remember? Here are some steps to follow to strike the right balance.
Always start off with your mission and vision —the spiritual side. Make sure everyone feels like they’re part of the mission, empowered and valued as part of the team. As Simon Sinek puts it, “Start with why.”
As the saying goes, however, “Vision without action is just a dream.” You need to translate that mission into an action plan for the day-to-day operation.
This is the physical side.
Then, it’s of the utmost importance to build trust and empowerment among your employees.
That’s the social-emotional side.
Then allow everyone to think creatively, innovate, read books, take courses, etc.
This will improve the mental side of the organization.
Many entrepreneurs, myself included, need to learn how to sharpen the saw daily. Sharpen your saw to victory.