During one of many visits to the beautiful island-country of Madagascar, between workshops in Antananarivo for government employees, I managed to squeeze in a few sight-seeing hours and tour the city. My guide took me to see many varieties of lemurs, government buildings that harked back to North Korean architecture and to some of the Presidential Palaces and museums, of which there are at least seven dotted around ‘Tana, as Antananarivo is lovingly known, and the surrounding villages. Getting to know Malagasy culture, listening to their music and understanding their simple way of life has been fascinating – they are beautiful people.

At one of the palaces on that sight-seeing day, I noticed scaffolding hugging the palace walls and people everywhere – a hive of activity, with some workers mixing concrete, others carrying bags of cement and others pushing wheelbarrows laden with sand. My guide and I came across two stone masons, hacking stone bricks out of large chunks of rock. I asked the first of the masons, via the Malagasy-speaking guide, what he was doing. He explained, or so I understood from the translation, that he was required to make bricks measuring, in centimetres, ten by ten by twenty. I happened to also speak to the second mason and casually asked him the same question. He responded: “I’m building a palace”.

That night, in my hotel room, I reflected on the day’s sight-seeing and wondered about the difference between the two stone masons – one saw his work as ‘making bricks’; the other, whilst doing exactly the same thing, saw his contribution as ‘building a palace’. One saw his job as a task to be repeated over and over again, the other saw the ‘big picture’ – a vision of a final product, a landmark, a symbol of authority and power.

What are you building? What are the employees of your company building? Is the ‘big picture’ so dominant and clear in everyone’s minds and hearts that even the mundane tasks, that all people typically have, are building blocks to achieve a goal and end product that is so much larger than the simple addition of everyone’s tasks? Are you amassing bricks or are you building a landmark – a symbol or a brand that will have impact and be remembered?

(Thought adapted from Free To Grow – www.freetogrow.com)

2 comments on “What palace are you building?

  1. Raymond Cugnolio on

    Thanks Jonathan for your thoughts on the two workman. I think that all employees and even owners vacillate between the two! Sometimes it does become mundane and just a task to do. It is the ability to inspire once again that allows one to see the bigger picture. Not always easy and perhaps one of the harder and more challenging aspects of being the “owner”.
    The trap to always be dishing out tasks to complete and criticizing their shortcoming makes the employee feel that it is just a job.

  2. Jonathan on

    Raymond, you rightly mention the challenge to the owner – perhaps inspiring staff with big picture information and vision is one of the owner’s key tasks and responsibilities?


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