The story goes that over 200 years ago, close to a battlefield, a man dressed in civilian clothes rode past a small group of battle weary and exhausted soldiers who were digging a foxhole as a defensive position. The section leader, making no effort to help, was shouting orders and threatening punishment if the work was not completed within the hour.
“Why are you not helping?” asked the stranger on horseback.
“I’m in charge here. The men do as I tell them,” said the section leader. “Hop over there and help them yourself if you feel strongly about it.”
To the section leader’s surprise, the stranger dismounted and helped the men until the job was finished. Before leaving the stranger congratulated the men for their work and approached the puzzled section leader.
“You should notify top command next time your rank prevents you from supporting your men, and I will provide a more permanent solution,” said the stranger. Up close, the section leader recognized General George Washington and the lesson he’d just been taught.
How many times do managers see the need for extra effort and push it on their people without pushing any extra themselves? How many times do YOU as a leader need to jump in the trench and help dig, but yet find it easier to scream through a bull horn?
You, as a leader, are a smart person. You attract and hire smart people. So they are intelligent enough to realize what you are doing by not getting your hands dirty when it’s crunch time. You are taking the easy way out and they see it! Your people understand that you can’t afford to consistently work IN the business and your job is to work ON the business. But when the clock is running down and it’s do or die time, they need a spark. They need that catalyst that will give life to an exhausted team. That will light a fire in their hearts and give them a burning sensation to get the job done.
If you stand behind a bull horn shouting orders, people will start to resent you. They will realize that you are reaping the benefits from their extra effort and you may risk them throwing down their shovels and giving up the cause.
Dwight Eisenhower put it like this, “An army is like a string. If you push it, it will double up on you. Leaders pull from the front.”
The next time its crunch time or the team needs a spark, I encourage you to get in there, get your hands dirty, and do the work. Your spark may ignite a fire bigger than you ever imagined. Stop worrying about your title or your position or what you think those words mean. Stop analyzing and trying to sync what you imagine your position does in your head. What’s important is not what roles and authorities everyone has. It’s the big work that gets accomplished that matters. Forget the rest. The rest is meaningless, like chasing the wind.