Building a Cathedral

Meaningful Work

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

National Cathedral


There’s lots of talk about employee engagement these days. And there’s good reason for us to be discussing this topic. Gallup tells us that about 70% of our employees are disengaged. It’s been the same number, plus or minus a percent or two, since they have been doing the employee survey. Apparently, few find that they are engaged in meaningful work.

Think about that. About 30% of our employees are engaged and enthusiastic about moving the company forward. The rest are there collecting a paycheck. To them, work isn’t meaningful, it’s simply a paycheck. Clock in, drudgery, clock out and go home.

The Stonemasons

I’m guessing that most of you know the story of the three stonemasons. If not, you can find my rendition of it here (it’s a quick read). The bottom line here is that without a vision — something bigger than we are — employees are not engaged. They need “meaningful work.” To me, meaningful work means there is purpose in what we do, or, as some may say, “bigger vision.”

I had the opportunity to visit the National Cathedral several years ago (image above). I guess it’s the engineer in me, but I couldn’t stop marveling at the workmanship in that building. In particular, the stonework was amazing. Inside, the Cathedral, the woodwork is stunning. The stained glass windows are magnificent. I’m not convinced that we can build this kind of monument today. I hope I’m wrong, but I do not see the pride of workmanship in most modern construction. We need vision and purpose to feel pride of workmanship — regardless of the work product.


In my view, creating a compelling vision/purpose is what leadership is all about. And guess what…more profit isn’t at all inspiring or visionary. KPIs aren’t visionary unless they are used only as a measure of how successfully we are moving toward living up to our vision. To quote Simon Sinek, “People buy why you do what you do. They do NOT buy what you do.” The why is simply values, which define vision and purpose.

Values also define the culture. And, as I’ve said before, a CEO has only one major job and that is to actively manage the corporate culture. So that means deep thoughtful and insightful development of the organizational values. Then creating an inspiring vision/purpose for where the organization is going. And, of course, following up by holding all the leadership team accountable to actually “living out” those values is critical. I see this as a full time job. I get that a CEO has some tactical things to do, but none are as impactful as managing the culture.

Once Again

So once again, I wind up with the conclusion that the fundamental drivers of business are values and a clear compelling vision. Are your people laboring in the hot sun? Are they trapped in a job that doesn’t inspire them? Or are they “building a Cathedral?” I’m more convinced than ever that making sure our employees are fully engaged is the one significant purpose for a leadership team, led by a CEO that understands that the KPIs are there to serve the organization. Not the other way around.