A Tale Of Three Bricklayers

Posted by on Oct 17, 2011 in Leadership | 3 Comments

Once upon a time, there were three bricklayers.

When asked, “What are you doing?” the first bricklayer replied:

“I’m laying bricks.”

The second bricklayer was asked the same question. He answered:

“I’m putting up a wall.”

The third bricklayer, when asked the question “What are you doing?” responded, with pride in his voice:

“I’m building a cathedral.”

If you search for this story online you’ll find many different variations, most including some sort of explanation about how the tale speaks to a person’s attitude and ability to see the big picture. While these things are true, and insightful, this story makes me wonder about something else.

Why is it that some companies seem to have an overwhelming amount of cathedral-builders? Then on the other hand, why do other businesses seem to only contain hordes of bricklayers?

There is no question that a person’s individual perspective (attitude, ability to see the big picture, etc.) is crucial. But the importance of the culture that individual is IN is often highly underestimated — even though a cultural explanation actually explains this conundrum much better.

Let me explain.

If there is a “we” component to our work — if there is something about the collective group that makes us either better or worse as individuals — then this story isn’t just about a person’s mindset. It’s also very much about the culture surrounding the person.

As leaders we have very little direct control over how other people think. But if there’s something about the environment a person is in which creates either more or less meaning in their work, then leaders are on the hook for something different.

A work environment — unlike a person’s mentality — is something a leader has a HUGE amount of control over.

So then the next question is:

“As a leader, how do I create more cathedral-builders in my company… by building a better work environment?”

Once we start asking that question, we’re headed in the right direction.

//

If you liked that post, then try these…

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast by Josh Allan Dykstra on October 12th, 2009

Do You Work Smarter Or Harder? by Josh Allan Dykstra on January 24th, 2011

Lunar Landings & Disagreeing With Seth Godin by Josh Allan Dykstra on April 9th, 2012

3 Comments

  1. Dean's Spotlight on USF Nursing » USF Nursing Faculty & Staff Opening Week 2012 Builds Foundation for Success
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    […] rest of the week with with a presentation on building on a positive foundation. Using the classic Tale of Three Bricklayers as inspiration, the faculty and staff were inspired to create their own “bricks” with […]

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  2. simpler ideas for a better life
    October 28, 2013

    […] and communicate their work in terms of the (positive) change that they bring about in people.  The ‘bricklayer story’ was a favorite of my former Mayor who told it umpteen times to impress upon our colleagues that as […]

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  3. Business 101 | Trying To Keep It Agile
    September 30, 2014

    […] is an old story called A Tale of Three Bricklayers. (Josh Allan Dykstra has a good article about this.) It goes something like […]

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