Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. – Abraham Lincoln.
Two lumber jacks agree to a race to see who can cut down a tree first. Both woodcutters start furiously sawing their equally thick trees but after 5 minutes, the second woodcutter stops and disappears. The first continues his fast pace without ever stopping and goes into an early lead. The second continues taking breaks and disappearing and over time the first lumber jacks pace slows, whilst the second renews the same fast pace each time he restarts sawing. Eventually the second woodcutter successfully cuts down his tree winning easily. The first lumberjack is amazed and asks the second: “How can you win when you spent less time sawing your tree?”, “that’s obvious” replies the second: “I spent more time sharpening my saw!”. The moral of the story that the second woodcutter benefited both from taking a break and fine tuning his skills (in form of the saw), whilst apparently obvious, is one of the most common failings of busy people. Busy people often lose track of what they are doing and bounce about from one “emergency” to another, working in quadrant I constantly. They spend so much time being “busy” that they fail to value self-renewal and most significantly don’t make time to think about how to do things better.
People who are always “busy”, frequently fail to work out how to do things better.
The value of “sharpening the saw” is applicable to both individuals and teams and in it’s core it is making time to preserve and enhance human assets, it is very much a relationship building quadrant II skill. It encompasses both the professional and personal sphere and embraces positive renewal. In a work sense it is having the mentality that tomorrow can and will be better than today and understanding that making that possible will be determined by renewing ourselves and our team: physically, socially, mentally and spiritually. If we take the woodcutter story as an example we can say the second wood cutter took care of the physical side by taking a break from sawing and also demonstrated the benefits of the mental side as he had learned that sharpening his saw was vital in long term to cutting the tree quickly.
Whatever the job of a person, the value of taking proper breaks to work productivity is proven. Needed breaks are both the short ones during our day that allow our mind to disconnect for micro moments and longer ones like vacations that provide longer term recharge. As a leader it is important to establish proper breaks for your team and respect for these (both ways) and the connection they have to efficiency. How we exercise, eat and rest in our personal sphere obviously naturally also has an impact on our work sphere which is why if we are committed to performing at our best we must sharpen our saw physically too. Sharpening our saw emotionally is also vital, as when we feel we fit in and belong we naturally perform better. The right team bonding activities perform a vital function in creating this sense of belonging to the team and encourage your whole team to embrace shared team values and see the importance of performing at optimum levels. Spiritual sharpening your saw is also important as feeling in touch with something even bigger than us, in whatever form that may be for each individual, recharges our sense of purpose and reminds us about the wonders of life.
As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life. – Stephen Covey.
The easiest and most important of the four renewal areas to address from a leadership position is that of mental sharpening the saw. It is important that your team embrace the benefits and value of self-learning. As a leader you need to provide the tools to make this possible: training sessions, feedback, development books and most of all the motivation and structure to push your staff not only to value self-learning but to embrace the benefits of it. It is important that staff see problems, as hurdles to be jumped and not barriers to prevent progress. This is the objective mentality over the task one. If they lack experience, they should make up for it by a desire to learn and improve. If the staff member feels he knows it all, the leader should challenge him to learn something new or to teach less experiences members the same skills. No-one, including most importantly you the boss, should ever stop learning, it is essential you embrace the mentality of continuous learning that of a growth mindset.
As a leader you have a duty to help your staff develop a growth mentality.
Leaders who sharpen their saw continuously not only perform at higher efficiency levels, they also inspire others to embrace a culture of self improvement. Staff follow a leader who takes care of them, not as a peer, but as professional guide who seeks to align self improvement with achieving work goals. There is nothing more inspiring for a staff member to have a leader who can spot a skill or talent they have and then commits to nurturing it to success. People in almost any profession are the most important investors in a project and for them to be performing at their optimum, they must be daily sharpening their saw. They must be renewing their energy levels for new efforts and absolutely must be committed to learning what is needed to perform to higher standards. To sharpen the saw is not only intelligent, it is also inspirational.
Sharpening the saw creates a culture of belief that the impossible can be made possible.