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.


4 Replies to “A Tale Of Three Bricklayers”

  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] 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 […]

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

  4. […] 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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