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As most of you have experienced with your kids, I have been blessed with occasional surprise nuggets of wisdom from the mouths of my sons Alex and Andrew. They are now almost 15 (identical twins), but when they were just three years old, their daily discoveries were something to behold. One day, driving by a construction site, Alex called out, with great excitement, “Dirt! Hooray!” He was quite certain that this pile of dirt was something good — something desirable and even enjoyable.
Most of us would look at a pile of dirt and conclude that it is, at best, neutral. The dirt may not be in the right place, but it can be useful. Depending on the type of dirt it could be used for a number of purposes. At a construction site, a pile of dirt is often something that is in the way and needs to be hauled out. However, what my son saw was opportunity. He saw endless possibilities. He even saw excitement and entertainment.
Organizations are like construction sites in many ways. Leaders are the foremen who oversee the transformation of land and materials into new and different purposes. Sometimes the land is previously untouched and a new landscape and/or structure is created. This is essentially what entrepreneurs do when creating a new organization. Sometimes the land has existing structures that are razed and new structures are created. Unfortunately, some leaders have to essentially raze existing organizations so that new ones can be constructed. However, in most cases, land and buildings are added to, repurposed, and remodeled. This is what most leaders do in their organizations — they lead both incremental and revolutionary change based on existing organizational structures.
In all cases, dirt piles are created when leaders/foremen oversee transformation of their “land and materials.” The dirt is the “stuff” that makes the work of leading change messy. There are many kinds of organizational dirt: late adopters of change, naysayers, the need to let good people go, regulatory hurdles, conflicting views, financial setbacks, customer push back, operational blunders, and so on. You and I could brainstorm a very long list of organizational dirt piles!
One of the greatest writings of wisdom on daily living is from James, the author of a letter found in the Christian New Testament. One of James’ opening comments is, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” A contemporary paraphrase of this for leaders might be, “When being a leader gets dirty, enjoy the work because in the end, you will be stronger.” Or, as my son said, “Dirt! Hooray!”
I believe that James was reminding us of what we already know, that our journey is wrought with problems. However, his twist on this daily reality is that we should embrace problems! We need to recognize that in these challenges exist great opportunities for leadership talents to shine, and through both failure and success, there is growth and strengthening for the next challenge.
My challenge to you is the next time you see some trial pop up, some challenge to your leadership skills, cry out …