Stacked Stone Wall

Stone Wall Leadership

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Stone walls can be fascinating. They come in all shapes and sizes and designs. Modern walls are generally built with milled stones (consistent shapes) and mortar to keep things in place. Earlier walls often were built by taking natural field stones of infinite shapes and sizes and fitting them together the best way possible to make a stable structure. We saw many such walls when we lived in New England. And, as I understand it, the farmers used to walk the walls in the spring and rebuild them as necessary after winter ice randomly pushed stones out of place.

Using the stones to build walls served several purposes. Taking the stones out of the field made plowing and planting easier. The walls became a visible property line. And some walls, if they were built high enough, may have kept the farm animals on the farm.

From a leadership point of view, we might draw an analogy to the creative stonemasons of old. Effective leaders take many unique individuals and fit them into a useful structure or organization. Each person adds a unique strength to that structure and supports the other people around them and thus the integrity of the whole company. And like those yesteryear farmers, we may walk the organization from time-to-time and find that a particular person actually fits better in another part of the organization, performing a different, maybe an expanded function.Mortar Stone Wall

Stone wall leadership requires constant attention and rebuilding. And it’s best to use the old method of stacking the stones based on fit. Sometimes though, we get it wrong and the person doesn’t fit for some reason. They don’t wind up adding value or upholding the integrity of the wall. Using mortar (financial incentives) to keep stones in place makes the structure too rigid. Outside forces, like the ice, will still move the stones and crack the foundation. It will be harder to rebuild the mortared wall.

I don’t want to push the analogy any farther. From a people leadership point of view, we realize that our people are not static like the stones from the fields. They change and reshape themselves. It’s our responsibility to encourage and help them do just that and find new places for them to add value. That’s modern “stone wall  leadership:” finding the right stone for the right place in the wall, thereby increasing the structural integrity. And then, as things (or people) change, finding a new perfect spot for the unique values being offered.