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  • Put Down That Saw!

    sharpen the saw Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the greatest books of all time, if you ask me. It’s not only a must-read, it’s a must-read-many-times kind of book. There’s never a time that I pick it up to re-read, whether in whole or in part, that it doesn’t speak to a current situation that I’m facing at home or at work. I can look at any of the Seven Habits and think of an instance where I’m deficient and could benefit from applying one – or more – of Covey’s principles.

    If you’re a manager, let me challenge you today with the “Sharpen the Saw” principle. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s how Covey introduces Habit 7:

    Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. 

    “What are you doing?” you ask.

    “Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

    “You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?” 

    “Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work!”

    “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

    “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

    As a manager, can you relate to that mentality?

    What are you too busy sawing right now?

    Not only do you have your own workload to manage, but you’re accountable for others as well. And those others tend to have a lot of issues, don’t they? You are responsible for coaching / leading them through their issues, but who is dealing with your issues?

    Are you burned out? Stressed out? Overwhelmed?

    Does your saw need sharpening?

    It’s kind of like the airplane “put your own oxygen mask on before you help others” analogy, which is a bit overused but resonates easily with people. To put a more corporate spin to it, let’s see how others have backed up this concept:

    • Donna Stoneham, in her Association for Talent Development blog Work on Yourself First, says “To develop employees, teams, and organizations that thrive, we need to start with ourselves.”
    • And AON Hewitt, in their 2015 Trends in Employee Engagement report, tells us that “Engaging leaders who engage others are not just a nice to have – they are the key ingredient to creating a culture of engagement.”

    We know that engagement comes from the top down, and if we want to engage others, we must first be engaged ourselves. So… if you were looking for an excuse to take care of yourself first (i.e., sharpen your own saw) – there you go! Your own engagement / well-being is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have.

    Let’s take this outside of the work world for a minute and go into the world of parenting.

    Sanity is something I’d call a key ingredient to successful parenting, wouldn’t you? Every once in a while, though, I start to lose mine, and the only way to get it back is to take a strategic time out – away from my kids! Sometimes Mommy needs a pedicure, a glass of wine, a good book, or a weekend retreat to remain a sane and effective parent. (I know that no one else can probably relate to that, but thought I’d share anyway… just in case!)

    As a manager, you can’t let your personal development go by the wayside. Strategic and intentional time-outs for your own development are a very good – and necessary – thing.

    Let’s get back to Covey now. Being proactive about our own personal development is what he classifies as a Quadrant II activity – it’s Important but not Urgent. But, he says, it’s ” the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life.”

    He also reminds us that “We are the instruments of our own performance,” which means that the responsibility to improve and develop ourselves belongs not to our bosses or our companies, but to each of us ourselves.

    Your challenge, then, is to answer this question:

    How – and when – will you take a break from sawing to sharpen your saw? 


    LEGEND Talent Management provides leadership and executive coaching to help create cultures of engagement  – from the top down.