Jackhammers and Leadership

I learned a very valuable leadership lesson when I was 19.  I was working as a laborer on a curb repair crew for the summer.  Part of the job was breaking up the old curbs using a jackhammer.  I remember the first time I was asked to operate it I was very excited – it was loud, dirty, and made me feel very manly.  I received the instructions from my crew chief, and off I went to break up 100ft of curb.  After 5 minutes I started to feel weak and I was sweating profusely.  After 10 minutes I was light headed and almost ready to throw up when I had to stop. It was then I noticed the whole crew standing back laughing at me as they saw the fatigue and nausea overtake me.  When I shut the jackhammer off, my crew chief came over and gave me my first leadership lesson.

“Kid, you have to learn to let the jackhammer do the work.  When you learn to work with it and not try and control it, then you really get work done.”

That summer I gradually learned to let the jackhammer do the work, and as I look back on that day, I realize how it was a lesson for every important role I would ever have – leader, husband, parent, friend, and facilitator.

As I work with new leaders – The biggest mistake I see new leaders make is to over-manage their teams and not focus on setting clear goals and working to remove the things that are getting in the way of their people.  Leadership is exhausting if you opt for total control vs working with it.

As I lead entrepreneurs and their leadership teams through a process to build a strategy and culture focused on performance – I have to stand back and let them work through the change, learn what works for them, and struggle with growing up as a team.  They have to delegate the work that will allow them to lead more effectively.  I have to be patient and persistent.  If either of us tries to do too much for others, it will exhaust us and the effort will not be successful.

In my work as a coach – If I go into a coaching session trying to guess the answers ahead of time and force knowledge into my coachee – it is exhausting.  When I go in with the intent of being present and working through the process of coaching with a coachee, they leave with the strength of conviction and ownership, and I leave amazed at the work that gets done when I am present and allow space for exploration.

As a parent of teenagers – If I go into conversations armed with the intent that I will convince them they are wrong and I am right, it usually ends with tears and loud voices.  If I am patient and work on listening and drawing out what is on their mind and gather their reflections on the event, it does not alway end in a hug with music playing in the background, but it generally ends with energy in reserve for us to work on the next challenge or to celebrate the next victory.

Kid, you have to let the jackhammer do the work.  Leader, you have to let your people do the work.

Coach/Leader, you have to listen well and draw out the reality and possibilities from your partners in performance.

Dad, you have to let your daughter grow up a little, and feel loved on their journey.

Friend, sometimes you just have to sit there and listen, because you can’t cure the cancer, fix the marriage, or bring their child back to life.

What are you challenged with today that you have to learn to let the jackhammer do the work?

Lead well – in whatever role you take on today.