Building Bridges, not Burning Them

When I graduated from Dixie State College a very influential guy named Thomas S. Monson spoke at the commencement ceremony. He based his remarks on the poem by Will Allen Dromgoole entitled “The Bridge Builder.” This poem, and the talk that it inspired, are powerful. It sheds a beautiful light on service-based leadership and illustrates the importance building bridges instead of burning them. Here it is for your reading pleasure:


An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim-
That sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when he reached the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head.
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”



Who’s on Board? Part II: Keep the Good Ones and Lose the Pinheads

Leadership Principle
Getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus (the topic of the last post) is clearly very important. But what do we do once all the right people are on? The answer is: KEEP THEM ON THE BUS!

I used to work for a healthcare company that wasn’t known for the way they treated their employees (they focused on other things). In the emergency department where I worked there was a wide variety of people. Some were really effective and great to work with, and some were…….. not (to put it mildly). Everyone agreed that the best employee we had on the team was a nurse named Ana. She was great with the patients, fun to work with, and amazingly efficient. She could do the work of two people in half the time. I loved when I got assigned to work with Ana because it meant everything would go very smoothly and everyone would have an enjoyable experience.

Unfortunately the leadership and culture of the organization did not give proper value Ana’s hard work. I remember her telling me once not to overachieve because it would put me at a disadvantage. Crazy right?? Basically she felt overworked and underappreciated. After a while it appeared that she’d had enough because she transferred to a different division of the hospital. What a shame. The emergency department lost its best employee. They failed to keep the right people on the bus.

Scriptural Support
Jesus was in incredible leader. He was very patient with His disciples and trained them very well. He gave them positive feedback and showed that He valued their efforts. He created a culture that kept the right people on the bus for the rest of their lives. At the same time, the wrong people did not feel comfortable on the bus and they self-ejected. So, instead of keeping the wrong people and losing the right people, he kept the right people and lost the wrong people.

So What? How can we avoid losing our best people?
It all comes back to culture. How does our culture motivate and inspire our best people? Are they compensated fairly for their above-average efforts? Who do we cater to in our communications and policies? The highest achievers or lowest common denominator? The emergency department that I worked for the latter; they catered to the pinheads and lost their best people. After a while, these kinds organizations become full of pinheads.

Comments: What do you think the emergency department should have done to keep Ana?

Who’s on Board? Part I

Leadership Principle

I was once working for a very successful organization and had just been made a leader. I oversaw only a small group of people so I thought, “How hard can this be?” It turned out to be much harder than I ever could have imagined. I was younger and less experienced than everyone in the zone that I was leading, and they were all bitter because of that. I tried everything I could possibly think of to boost morale and improve results, but to no avail. The zone members were unproductive, uncoachable and even rude at times. I was incredibly frustrated (especially because I was working harder than I ever had up to that point). Then something happened that changed everything, new assignments were made by the administration and almost everyone in my zone was replaced. These new “teammates” all had about the same credentials as the previous group but there was something different, they were AWESOME! They were hardworking, respectful and coachable. It was amazing to see how all my problems disappeared overnight. Results and moral saw significant improvements and I was happier than I had been in a long time.

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great addresses this issue and calls it “getting the right people on the bus.” He argues that this is the most important thing an organization can do. In fact, the WHO is more important than WHAT the organization actually does. Some companies (like SONY for example) didn’t even know what their core business was going to be at first, they just knew who they wanted to have on the bus with them. Just as important as getting the right people on the bus, is getting the wrong people off the bus. Nothing harms an organization more than the wrong person/people on board.

Scriptural Support
We see this concept very clearly in the New Testament. When Jesus put together His “team” of disciples some of them contributed more than others. Peter, James and John were a solid force for good their entire lives. They worked hard, performed miracles and built Christianity into an incredible movement. And no one can dispute the effectiveness that Paul eventually had when he was made part of the team. Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, was less than effective. He was constantly arguing and criticizing, and eventually betrayed the whole team.

So What?
No matter where you’re working or what you’re doing it’s imperative to have the right people on your team and the wrong people off your team. Nothing will have a greater impact on the organization than the people who are a part of it.

Comments: Is this really the MOST important thing an organization can do???? Do you have any other examples of getting the right people on and the wrong people off the bus?