Leadership, Brick-by-Brick


Years ago when I was practicing law and discussing the positive attitude of a young associate, a senior partner from our firm shared a story about bricklayers—a story that tried to prove a point. It went something like this:

Imagine yourself walking up to three bricklayers working side-by-side.  You walk up to the first bricklayer and ask, “What are you doing?”

The bricklayer replies, “I’m laying bricks.”

You walk up to the second bricklayer, just a few feet away, and ask, “What are you doing?”

The second bricklayer replies, “I’m building a wall.”

You then walk up to the third bricklayer, still just a few feet away from the others, and ask, “What are you doing?”

The third bricklayer energetically replies, “I’m building a beautiful cathedral.”

Then he asked, “Which would you want working for you?”  The senior lawyer used this story to say something about being a good employee, about that young associate having the right attitude.  He wanted to show me that the 3rd  bricklayer was more committed to the organization’s goal and therefore would ultimately perform better because of his attitude.

I saw something different.

For me, this story was about leadership.  Someone had instilled a vision in that 3rd bricklayer.  It was about communication and management.  It was about a leader who took the initiative to show that 3rd bricklayer a blueprint, a vision for a beautiful cathedral.

Bricklayer 2

Blueprints are an important part of leadership.  While it is important for every member of an organization to understand what he or she is expected to do, it is just as important for every member to understand why everything they are doing is important and where the organization is planning to go.

In the City of Philadelphia, we use PhillyStat (our performance management tool) as a blueprint.  Every quarter, each department within the Managing Director’s Office meets with PhillyStat to review metrics across key performance categories: operations, finances, human resources, technology and customer service.  The most important aspects of these PhillyStat sessions often happen in the beginning and end.  Each session begins with the particular department’s core mission followed by an outline of the department’s “Strategic Direction” over the next five years.  Just as important, each PhillyStat session concludes with a restatement of the department’s core mission.  Through this practice, leaders are able to effectively communicate a purpose and define goals to work towards that purpose.  After PhillyStat sessions, everyone at the table should understand why we do what we do, where we are planning to go and how we are planning to get there.

Rich Negrin PhillyStat

More important than those individual sessions, the departments should use that blueprint as a management and communication tool, both with their management team and with their entire staff, so all employees understand the priorities and key targets for their department.  That is the best way to keep employees fully engaged and committed to the greater goals.

A better informed, more engaged employee is a more productive employee who also enjoys more job satisfaction.  They feel a part of something important that is bigger than themselves.  They understand how what they individually do everyday impacts the entire mission and serves a greater good for the citizens of Philadelphia.  They feel like that 3rd bricklayer.

I make every effort to use the same approach in the Managing Director’s Office, even when I’m not in a PhillyStat session.  Through individual meetings or informal conversations, it is always important to share your blueprint.  I have a firm understanding of what I would like the Managing Director’s Office to achieve within the next year, but if I do not properly communicate my vision and enlist allies in the pursuit, how can my departments and employees see that vision through?

Every employee deserves to know why a task was assigned; every employee deserves to know why a goal was set.  Every employee deserves to know how they fit into the larger vision and how they are an important part of that effort.

Take the time to tell your employees about your cathedral because, at the end of the day, it can’t be built without them– brick-by-brick.

Rich headshot 1

Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.


3 thoughts on “Leadership, Brick-by-Brick

  1. One I’ve always try to do is, set a blue print for those formerly incarcerated and for those people who are headed in that direction. But after reading this article. I see that I’m still missing a few components. Time to make some adjustments to my approach.

  2. Pingback: Think Big, Act Small | PhillyInnovates

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