Sharpen Your Ax Continuous Growth is Essential for One’s Leadership Success

Many years ago, in Deep East Texas there was a very strong and skilled lumberjack who was looking for a job with a small timber company. He got the job with a fair salary and safe work conditions. And so, the lumberjack was determined to do his best for the boss. His boss gave him an ax and on his first day, the lumberjack chopped down 18 trees. The timber boss was pleased and said, “Well done, good work!”

 

Highly motivated, the lumberjack worked harder the next day, but he only could bring down 14 trees. The third day, he worked even harder, but he was just able to bring down eight trees. Day after day, he worked harder but cut down a smaller number of trees. The lumberjack thought, “I must be losing my strength.” He apologized to the timber boss, claiming he could not understand why.

 

“When was the last time you sharpened your ax?” the timber boss asked.

 

“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my ax. I have been too busy cutting down trees.”

 

The timber boss explained that the lumberjack needed to sharpen his tools on a regular basis.  Continuous improvement is the key.  Well, the lumberjack sharpened his ax and immediately was back to felling 18 trees a day. And since that conversation, he begins each day by sharpening his ax.

 

Too often we all are too busy doing and trying to achieve that we never take time to learn and grow. Most of us do not plan and set aside time, or we lack the patience to update skills, knowledge, and beliefs about an industry, or to take time to think and reflect. Many incorrectly assume that learning ends at school and so sharpening our ax is not a priority.

 

So, what exactly is sharpening the ax? Dr. Stephen Covey, who popularized the term “sharpening the saw,” believes that it means “increasing your production capacity by daily self-care and self-maintenance.”

 

Most fail to understand what it means and mistake it for taking a break or vacation. If we  overwork ourselves and our productivity drops, we take a break. However, that is not sharpening the ax – that is putting the ax down. When we put down an ax with a dull blade and rest, the blade will still be dull when we pick it back up.

 

The lumberjack does need downtime to rest, but downtime is not “sharpening the ax.” The lumberjack only becomes more productive by sharpening his blade, analyzing new woodcutting techniques, exercising to become stronger, and learning from other lumberjacks.

 

Sharpening your ax

 

Sharpening the ax is an activity. You too can sharpen the ax of your life. Here are ten examples of ax-sharpening activities:

 

  1. Read every day. We all must set aside time every day for reading.  Read a book, an industry blog, or any of the millions of articles related to your job or industry.  It was Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, who once said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
  2. Get out of the comfort zone by changing jobs. A new job forces you to learn new skills.
  3. Have an in-depth conversation with someone you find interesting. Sharpen your ax through that interaction with mentors, friends, colleagues, or like-minded leaders.
  4. Start a new hobby. Stretch yourself physically, mentally or emotionally.
  5. Study something new. Challenge yourself to learn.
  6. Quit a bad habit or overcome a specific fear you have. The key is change.
  7. Have a daily exercise routine. We all benefit from additional physical movement and activity.
  8. Identify your blind spots. Self-assessment is critical to keeping your ax sharp. Understand, acknowledge, and address deficiencies.
  9. Ask for feedback and get a mentor. Every world-class professional athlete has a coach. Professional Golfer Patrick Reed, notable for his victories in the 2018 Masters Tournament, and representing the United States in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup competitions – has a golf coach.  The world’s best American soccer players – Hope Solo and Alex Morgan; along with LeBron James and Stephen Curry – legendary professional basketball players, each have a coach.  Asking for feedback from a mentor is similar to having a personal coach.
  10. Learn from people who inspire you. There are hundreds of splendid TEDtalks and other videos on Youtube, as well as thousands of leadership podcasts with world-renowned thought leaders.  Spend some each week learning from people who inspire you.

 

The key is continuous improvement. If we are so focused on our task at hand with no time for discussion, introspection, or study, we are not moving forward. Just as a vehicle must be refueled to keep it going down the intrastate highway, we equally need refueling through learning.

 

Most organizations still rely on outdated management strategies that are irrelevant today. Unless we are sharpening our ax daily by observing the changing world and changing ourselves accordingly, we risk becoming irrelevant.

 

Andrew Grove reinvented Intel and oversaw an increase in market capitalization with his daily routine “ax-sharpening” ritual of studying global market changes and taking actions to ensure Intel remained relevant. Employees at organizations like Toyota believe it is a catastrophe if they do not create improvement every day. The “kaizen mindset” means whether we are a line worker or executive, we find ways to learn something new and apply it to what our daily lives. This regular organizational ritual of “sharpening the ax” forces us to be alert, mindful and continuous improvement.

 

Historical great leaders, like Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, and Steve Jobs had an endless appetite for learning and growth. Today great leaders like Oprah Winfrey, Simon Sinek, Malala Yousafzai, and Jeff Bezos continue demonstrating the need for lifelong learning and the need to sharpen the ax daily.  Leaders always listen and watch in the optimism of learning new ideas and discovering new truths and realities.

 

People hate change

 

Interestingly, many do just the opposite and fight change. By staying in the same job position for many years we become experts, and the role becomes easy, but our learning flattens. Most folks do not like taking on new roles as there are pains and struggles involved. But, the more one struggles, the higher the learning opportunity.

 

But when a new boss with new expectations takes over, we sometimes find ourselves struggling even though we have been at the same role for years. We try harder but still fail to impress. Why does this happen?

 

Similar to the lumberjack’s experience, trying harder along will not yield more significant results. This is because we did not upgrade ourselves nor grow in the “easy” years. One’s years of experience count for nothing if we do not keep up with the world around us and are ignorant and mindless of things that are evolving daily around us.

 

A whitepaper from a Harvard professor reminded me of our natural disposition to be mindless.

 

Mindlessness is our human tendency to operate on autopilot, whether by stereotyping, performing mechanically or simply not paying attention. We are all victims of being mindless at times. By sharpening the ax, one can move from a mindless state to a mindful state, from “blindly going with the flow” to thinking and “breaking boundaries.”

 

Why then do so many people fail to sharpen their ax? Well, ax sharpening is not as fun as chopping away at the trees. And it is painful and tedious work. The most significant battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul. Sharpening our ax is a daily internal battle. Research reveals that self-educated presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln sharpened their ax daily by cultivating the discipline of reading.

 

In most organizations, when there is a crisis or financial situation, the first thing that gets slashed is training programs for employees. But, in a crisis, there is a greater need for employees to have sharpened axes to deal with issues.

 

Crises often cause companies to become great because they finally take time to “sharpen their ax” by examining their current strategies and reinventing themselves, sometimes through painful reforms.

 

The South Korean auto industry before the 1998 Asian financial crisis was known for low-quality vehicles with strong domestic car sales. The crisis forced it to take a step back, sharpen its ax, become mindful to the world and move to sell most of its vehicles outside South Korea.  The United States automotive giant, General Motors, has seen a steady increase in its stock value throughout 2018 as it sharpens the ax by investing in retooling and investing in technology.

 

Of course, too much ax or aimless sharpening can become another form of procrastination. Many folks like to attend training conferences, classes, and programs but never end up using the ax. After sharpening the ax, use it, or all is in vain.

 

How are your various blades doing? Your skills, knowledge, mind, physical body, relationships, motivation, commitment to succeed, capacity for growth, emotions – are all of them still sharp? If not, which ones are dull, and what can you do to sharpen them?

 

A woodsman was once asked if you were given five minutes to chop down a tree how would you spend your time.  The woodsman replied, “I’d spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my ax.”  The key is continuous improvement.

 

What are you doing to sharpen your ax? Take a step back to assess yourself and begin sharpening your ax.

 

The Law of the Lid: Develop your leadership ability & your effectiveness will increase

by Kent Hutchison

Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness.  The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his or her potential.  The higher the leadership, the greater the effectiveness.

There are many examples of The Law of the Lid.  Maxwell writes about Dick and Maurice McDonald and their story in the creation of the McDonald’s fast food chain.

Like Dick and Maurice, I know and worked for two brothers who own and run a company but have a not much of an ability actually to lead – and the result is a very low lid on their potential. To many, the brothers look successful.  Their revenue has grown (although it has plateaued), they employ several hundred employees, and they are members of the town’s financial elite.   However, much like the example, Maxwell writes about, these two brothers have been unsuccessful in taking their organization to the next level.

The reason – they lack the leadership necessary to allow their organization to sustain growth.  They are good owners – they understand how to run a business, cut costs, and make a profit – but neither are leaders – they are fantastic operational managers.  Like the McDonalds, their thinking patterns clamp a lid down on what they can do and become. Unfortunately, this is a pattern seen too often in many organizations.

The Law of the Lid impacts those who lack vision.  Vision to develop themselves; vision to develop their employees, and vision to develop their leadership ability.

On the other hand, I know a gentleman who worked in higher education for many years and is currently a senior executive at a growing Texas independent bank.  He consistently leads teams and the bank to higher performance, year after year.  His leadership lid is sky high, and he recruits other leaders who have strong leadership abilities.  The bottom line is he has increased the effectiveness of his organization.

Maxwell writes, and I agree, that by raising one’s leadership ability one can improve effectiveness.

To increase your level of effectiveness, you have a couple of choices.  You could work very hard to increase your dedication to success and excellence.  It is possible that you could make it to a higher level, though the Law of Diminishing Returns says that the effort it would take to increase one’s success dedication might take more energy than it did to achieve your current level.  If you really killed yourself, you might increase your success.

But you have another option.  You can work hard to increase your level of leadership. By raising your leadership ability, you can significantly increase your original effectiveness.

 Whatever you will accomplish is restricted by the capacity to lead others.  The first step to improving your effectiveness is to assess your leadership ability.  Because of your leadership ability – for better or worst – always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your organization.

Leadership has a multiplying effect.  I’ve seen its impact again and again in all kinds of businesses and organizations. Leadership ability is always the lid on personal and organization effectiveness.

10 Reasons Why One Must Invest in Leadership

by Kent Hutchison

Let us get straight to the point.  Why should organizations (for-profit and non-profit) invest in leadership and management training?   Here are ten modest reasons:

  1. Employee engagement is critical to improving workplace relationships. When you invest in the development of leaders and leadership within your organization, managers develop awareness about their workplace behavior, and how it impacts employee engagement and performance.
  2. Engaged employees are safe workers. Engaged employees are more productive and usually more profitable.  Disengaged employees are frustrated and more disruptive.
  3. There is an assumption that everyone knows how to manage and lead.  This is similar to a teenager who’s never driven before being given keys to the car and told: “Drive.”  Learning to lead (or manage) on-the-fly is counterproductive.
  4. The fundamentals of sound leadership – using communication to build relationships so trust can be developed to create high-performance teams is not rocket Learning and mastering these fundamentals is easier than rocket science – that is why organizations must invest in developing their managers (and leadership bench) now.
  5. Your young managers of today will become your leaders of tomorrow.  If your organization is going out and hiring leaders instead of developing your own, you have to ask: Why?
  6. Many organizations invest heavily in developing at the top but less at the first-line manager or employee level, where it may well be more needed and could have higher
  7. Consistency is a good thing. However, in many organizations, individual managers are often hit and miss throughout the organization.  There are rising stars, the middle stars, and the falling stars that can cause damage to the organization without training and development.  Consistency in behavior for an organization’s managers is a good thing.  Investing in manager/leader development brings this high-performance
  8. High performing respected and well-trained leaders raise the confidence level of employees, and enhanced morale boost employee retention.  How much can you save if you improved your employee turnover? Developing managers/leaders help your employee retention.
  9. Developing your front-line leaders is also excellent litigation protection. As a follow-up to the previous point, it is even more expensive to deal with employee lawsuits; along with the resulting bad public relations.

Let us return to number 1.  Employee engagement is too critical not to emphasize.  In the long-run, relationships are built with on-going communication and dialog.  Stronger relations among employees and leaders leads to a trusting work environment which creates a safe, productive and profitable workplace.

Networking: Business Lessons my Dad taught me

by Kent Hutchison

As a child growing up, I watched my dad visit and stay in touch with folks around our small town of Orangefield, Texas.   As a former school board member, each morning he would make the trek up to the administration building to have coffee with the superintendent and others.  Then it was on to the local water office, credit union, and hardware store.

Some 30+ years later, now in his eighties, my father sill makes the rounds around town.  He is also considered by many as an influencer in our community.

Now he does not refer to his activities as networking.  It is just what he does.

Watching dad, I have learned some valuable lessons about business networking that have helped me grow my business and reputation.

  • No Agenda Necessary: Networking should not be for immediate gain. It is about building relationships, not agendas. Approaching networking with the right attitude, and heart is about being engaged and communicating your personal brand, your organization, and your vision to as broad an audience as possible. Over time, these seeds take root, and the value will return to you.
  • Give, and You Shall Receive: Before asking anything of anyone, make it a point to help others first. Influencers are regularly being asked for favors and advice. Building relationships is about adding value to others. To be successful in networking, you do so without really expecting anything in return.  You will reap the benefits only after you give. Genuinely try to help other with what they need or want.
  • Connect Others: Helping others be successful is a magnificent way to establish the foundation for future value back to you. Become a super-connector and build your brand, by connecting others together without agenda or seeking anything in return.
  • Listen First: By listening to others, you can genuinely understand their specific needs. You can provide greater value by listening. Remember, networking is not always about your brand or business.
  • Share Your Vision: Give your ideas away. If they like them, chances are you will be hired to execute them, and if they do not hire you and steal your idea, be complimented not disappointed.
  • Be Ethical: You may find yourself a networking situation with the potential to cross ethical lines. Save yourself the misfortune, and do not be drawn into an unethical situation. I have made a lot of decent deals in business, and I have not had to cheat, screw over a business partner, or do anything else I am not proud of to make those connections.
  • Include Others: Make it a habit of introducing people to each other and making people feel included. Invite people to socialize before or after an event, or share a few drinks, dinner, and stories. Folks remember you when you make an effort to include them.
  • Give Others Your Full Attention: Looking around for somebody more desirable to visit with or speak to is a good way to doom a good relationship from the start. Give everyone your full attention and be genuinely present in conversations. Listen with your whole body, or as my mother taught me – listen with your eyes. If you find yourself mindlessly nodding without knowing what the other person is talking about, that may be a sign you are wandering. Every person matters.
  • Conduct Yourself Well: Your personal brand is your reputation. Just remember, what happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas. While having a few adult beverages at that business conference (networking) may make sense, do not spoil the experience by going wild. There is a good chance your clowning around will end up published on one of the many social media sites.  Internet search engines do not take your personal state of mind into account as it simply compiles search rankings, and before you know it, you could end up with some undesirable results (and photos or videos) attached to your name.   Ok – this lesson I did not learn from Dad, as he does not drink alcohol– this is one I have learned the hard way.  Learn from my missteps.

Watching my dad, I have also come to understand that there is no guaranteed way to ensure a good networking experience, but his lessons have made it somewhat easier. Each person we talk with is expecting something different, just as each personality leads to a different type of conversation. That said, having the basics down can lead to an improved and more meaningful connection. Try following these lessons during your networking opportunity – and seriously, do not drink too much at those happy hours.

Networking Lessons

  •  No Agenda Necessary
  •   Give and You Shall Receive
  •   Connect Others
  •  Listening First
  •  Share Your Vision
  • Be Ethical
  • Include Other
  • Give Others Your Full Attention
  • Conduct Yourself Well

 

BACK TO SCHOOL TIME & THE PARABLE OF THE PENCIL by Kent Hutchison

Howdy folks.  Life is short, enjoy your coffee.

Today, I want to share with you a story that’s been around a while – and there are several versions of the story online floating around, but I just rediscovered this parable in my files of “neat stuff.”

For the past month, everyone has been wrapped up in back to school mania.  All the television commercials are for back-to-school clothes and supplies.  Those of us that are parents – our household schedules have been transitioning from summer busy to back-to-school busy.

Well, the story is titled, “The parable of the pencil.” 

You see, the Pencil Maker took the pencil aside, just before putting him into the box. There are five things you need to know before I send you out into the world.  Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be.

  1. Everything you do will always leave a mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write.
  2. You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.
  3. What is important is what is inside of you.
  4. In life, you will undergo multiple painful sharpening from time to time, but you’ll need it to become a better pencil.
  5. To be the best pencil, you must allow yourself to be held and guided by the hand that holds you.

 

The pencil understood and promised to remember and went into the box with purpose in its heart. We all need to be sharpened from time-to-time. Now replacing the place of the pencil with you:  Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best person you can be.

  1. On every surface, you walk through; you must leave your mark. No matter what the situation, you must continue to do your duties.
  2. You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.
  3. The essential part of you will always be what’s on the inside.
  4. You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, by going through various problems in life, but you’ll need it to become a stronger person.
  5. You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be guided by the hand that holds you. And let other human beings to access you for the many gifts you possess. Value your friendships.

 

Allow this story on the pencil to encourage you to know that you are a special person and only you can fulfill the purpose to which you were born to accomplish.
Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged and think that your life is insignificant and cannot make a change; and as the pencil, always remember that the essential part of who you are, is what’s inside of you.

Well, we need to finish our coffee and get those kids to school.

I wish you the best in all your endeavors today and the future.