Raising the level of your leadership

Sandcastles And Jell-O

A trip to the beach last year included the obligatory task of making a sandcastle, except it wasn’t a sandcastle we built, it was…well…let your imagination run wild (but not too wild). Sandcastles aren’t a children’s activity anymore; the adults have taken over. There is even a U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition in San Diego with $21,000 of prize money. There are hundreds of competitions, usually fund raisers, in places without sand (Omaha) and places with lots of sand (Qatar). With so much at stake, a new occupation has washed up on the beach: Sandcastle Consultants. Whether it is a competition, fund raiser, or company picnic, people are willing to pay big bucks to get help building “world-class” sandcastles. It takes more than a blue plastic bucket and yellow shovel these days, you need a consultant.

Another childhood favorite, Jell-O, has also been taken over by adults. The Jell-O Mold Competition in Brooklyn, N.Y., featured gelatin sculptures like Jell-Obama, Jelly Fishin’ and Jelly Dogs (the grand prize winner, complete with bun, hotdog, mustard, relish and ketchup, all sculpted with Jell-O). Look it up on Google Images—you’ll be amazed. I couldn’t find any Jell-O consultants, but no doubt they are coming.

Sandcastles and Jell-O sculptures have a lot in common. They can’t withstand much stress. Even with the help of consultants, sandcastles are eroded slowly by small waves or wiped out by one big one. Put a little heat on gelatin and it falls apart and becomes unrecognizable.

One of a leader’s main jobs is to make sure his organization is built on something that won’t erode when the waves come, or fall apart when the heat is on. Organizations need a firm foundation, a clear purpose for existing:

“People get through tough times because they have a strong sense of…purpose.”
Kouzes & Posner in The Leadership Challenge

 “This is who we are; this is what we stand for; this is what we’re all about.”
Jim Collins in Built To Last
(Chapter 3 of Built To Last is a great read about organizations with enduring purpose.)

Purposes that won’t survive waves and heat are:

◊ Profit: a shallow, meaningless purpose; organizations that exist primarily to make money never make enough

◊ Power: look at the mess in Washington; it’s all about power

◊ Self: a leader who makes it all about self ends up lonely, depressed and bewildered

◊ Size: Texas is bigger than Tennessee, but Alaska is bigger than Texas; so what?

Without a clear understanding of who you are and why you are taking up space in the first place, even a consultant can’t save you when the waves are high and the temperature hot.

By the way, it’s not just your organization that needs a clear purpose, you do too.

© Copyright 2011 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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