Oct 3, 2013

L E A D E R S ......

The Dailygood.org article today is about leadership. They always have a quote the compliments the article or interview or essay they are sharing. 

The quote today from Bill Gates .... "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others", got me thinking about my favorite quote on leadership, one that I've shared with many over the past years. 

Long ago, I was introduced to the book by Max De Pree, Leadership Is An Art, published in the late 80's.  The author was the former CEO of the Herman Miller furniture company.  This is a great book, if you are interested in this topic.   One of my favorite stories in the book is excerpted below, about the death of the millwright. 

Why is ‘employee engagement’ lacking? 

Let me start answering this question by sharing a zen story.
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
I say that if we are to come up with insightful answers to the question of ‘employee engagement’ we have to be willing to empty our cups of that which we already know about employees and ‘employee engagement’?  I say we have to go further and radically examine our conception of the person: the being of a human being.
How best to illustrate what I am pointing at here? Allow me to share a story as told by Max DePree in Leadership is an Art.

The millwright dies

“In the furniture industry of the 1920s the machines of most factories were not run by electric motors, but by pulleys from a central drive shaft.  The central drive shaft was run by a steam engine.  The steam engine got its stream from a boiler. The boiler, in our case, got its from the sawdust and other waste coming out of the machine room….
The millwright was the person who oversaw that cycle and on whom the entire activity of the operation depended.  He was key person.  
One day the millwright died.
My father, being a young manager at the time, did not particularly know what he should do when a key person died, but he thought he ought to go and visit the family…….
The widow asked my father if it would be all right if she read aloud some poetry.  Naturally, he agreed. She went into another room, came back with a bound book, and for many minutes read selected pieces of beautiful poetry. When she finished, my father commented on how beautiful the poetry was and asked who wrote it.  She replied, that her husband, the millwright, was the poet. 
It is now nearly sixty years since the millwright died, and my father and many of us at Herman Miller continue to wonder: Was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?”

What can we learn from this story?

Here is what Max De Pree has to say about the story (bolding is my work):
“In addition to all the ratios and goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons.  This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills. Understanding and accepting diversity enables us to see that each of us is needed…”