I once heard a story in which a man walking by three bricklayers stopped to ask them what they were doing. The first two, with smirks on their faces, answered in a conventional way, “What does it look like? I’m laying bricks”. The third bricklayer paused, then thoughtfully turned to the man and said “I’m building a cathedral.”
Every day and with every task, we make a choice. We choose whether to frame our work as laying bricks or building cathedrals. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the tasks I need to complete (bricks), are so plentiful that it is easy to lose sight of the end goal. However, with the right team in place and the right attitude, a cathedral can and will emerge.
When thinking about the kind of organization you want to give at least forty hours a week to, make sure you take the time to understand and consider the organization’s vision. Not just what’s on paper, but what they espouse day-to-day. Make sure that you can believe in it and can commit to bringing that vision to fruition. If the goal has true resonance for you, during the more challenging moments, you will be able to center yourself on the promise of the cathedral and why it needs to be constructed. Remember fit doesn’t just go one way. Fit is just as important as a candidate as a team-builder. There are incredible organizations out there doing amazing things, but if it’s not the right fit for you, you will not be happy in the job. It can be terrifying, but waiting for the right fit (whenever possible) will help you settle into your new role more quickly, and enable you to achieve true professional contentedness.
Vision without leadership is useless, but keep in mind that leadership comes in all forms. Most organizations have a stated hierarchy; an organizational flowchart, comprised of neat boxes of who reports to whom and who is responsible for what. These documents are woefully insufficient in capturing the complex and nuanced reality of how organizations function. There are leaders in your organization that may not have or need positional authority. Whether you are entry, mid, or senior-level, seek to be a person that others want to find. Make sure you take the time to discover how people on your team and within your organization best communicate, receive feedback, and enjoy praise. Be authentic, thoughtful and seek to listen and understand rather than talk and explain.
When the time comes in your career for you to transition to an on-paper leader, find mentors who you believe supervise well and ask about their journey of balancing the needs of an organization with the needs of their team. Take what you learn with you and reflect. Think about how you can do something more effectively or more efficiently. Read and adopt new theories and practices, continue to develop as a professional, and above all else, always retain the humility to apologize when wrong. We are human, we all make mistakes. Be a diligent seeker of solutions, but never to the sacrifice of understanding and support.
As a manager, building the right team is never easy, but taking the time to do so mindfully is worth the effort. It’s all about vision, leadership, and fit. Regardless of hierarchy, every member of the team must invest in the vision. Whether it’s the directional focus of the organization, department, or core team, each member must share belief in the trajectory and endgame of the whole. We all have to be able to see the cathedral, and believe in its necessity, in order to build it.
When evolving a team, a supervisor takes into account current players, where deficits lie, and how to add to the team for optimization. Who will share our vision? Who will help us to be mindful of the cathedral to rise up from the bricks? Let’s face it, we spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our loved ones. Team synergy is essential to getting things accomplished. The team needs to gel and each member’s individual contribution needs to be a complementary piece of the whole. Be careful to not mistake this for everyone being best friends; not at all, but the team has to have a sense of mutual respect, trust, and appreciation.
With a vested belief in what the organization is trying to build, you can always find satisfaction in the day-to-day laying of bricks. Tackle the challenging journey of finding the right role on the right team, and learn to lead from your place within the organization. When privileged with the role of decision-maker, fill the roster of your team mindfully and with big-picture intentionality.
Being able to look back over your career and point to the towering, timeless, impactful cathedrals that could never have been built without you is an accomplishment worth striving for.
This post is part of our #CSAM15 series, in partnership with NASPA. Through these posts, we hope to highlight what it means to have a career in Student Affairs with a diverse group of contributors. With a focus on the students, defining Student Affairs, hot topics, and Striving Towards Betterment, there will be a lot to learn about this month! For more information, check out the intro post by John Weng at NASPA. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kathryne Auerback on Values Based Leadership and The Social Change Model