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Are You Chipping at Stones or Building a Cathedral?

Photo credit: Lyn Boyer

Are You Chipping at Stones or Building a Cathedral?

I enjoy the story about the traveler in the middle ages who happened upon a large work site in the center of a village. He had been traveling for many days, and he was eager to talk to anyone who would engage with him.

He walked up to a worker at the site and asked, “Sir, may I ask what you are doing?”

The worker scowled a bit and said tersely, “I am cutting stones.”

The traveler decided he would find little conversation there, so he moved on to another worker. When he asked the same question, the worker paused for a moment and explained that he was cutting stones so he could support his family.

He had a wonderful wife and two small children who depended on him to provide them with food and shelter. They chatted about the project and the village for a few minutes, and the worker turned back to his large pile of stones.

Real passion provides inspiration that’s much deeper than cheerleading or a temporary emotional high. When leaders are truly passionate, people feel included in the leader’s commitment, part of making important things happen. (Erika Andersen)

The traveler moved to a third worker and asked the same question: “Sir, may I ask what you are doing?”

The worker put down his tools, stood quite tall, looked the traveler in the eye and said with a warm smile, “I am building a cathedral. It will be the tallest and most magnificent structure for miles around. Its beauty will delight people for centuries to come. The stone I am now working on will go near the front door where people will enter for shelter and kinship.  I will probably not see the final product, but I know my work is part of something very important.”

All three workers were doing the same job. Each had a different vision of its purpose, and each had a different level of commitment. In turn, each worker experienced a different return on his emotional and physical investment.

If you think of a person you want to follow, it seems clear which worker would inspire you to greater things.


The first and most important component of successful leadership is passion—passion that is greater than one person’s needs or desires. It is a profound belief that what one is doing is important and serves a purpose greater than himself.

Exceptional leaders know the purpose of their work, and they regularly communicate that purpose to anyone willing to listen.

Passion provides the impetus to do even the menial and unpleasant parts of the job every day.

Certainly, not all jobs hold the same appeal for every person. However, it is in finding purpose that great leaders maintain their focus and their energy—they experience passion.

Sometimes purpose is hidden in the details of a job description or a work flow chart. Sometimes a leader must take unappealing jobs until something better comes along. However, a great leader finds or creates purpose even if it is a means to a more meaningful or productive future for herself or those she leads.

Just as the third worker talked about what the cathedral would provide for people in the future, he showed passion and pride in his work. His argument for doing it was very compelling. That passion and pride served him and his listener.

If you read leadership books and articles, most authors use the word passion as a prerequisite to any action a successful leader takes. That passion must be tempered with a healthy outlook—one that allows one to weigh reality against passionate possibilities.

Passionate leaders demonstrate their passion in the following ways:

  • They remain committed in spite of hardship or adversity.
  • Their passion becomes their mission in life.
  • Their values, words, actions, and beliefs are fully aligned with their mission.
  • They willingly take risks they believe will fulfill their passion.
  • They continually learn and search for better ways to achieve their goals.
  • They seek out others who will join them in their quest.

What are your passions?

How do you communicate them?

Are you endlessly chipping away at stones or are you building a cathedral?

If you do not now experience passion in your work or your life, what are the things you do that bring meaning or make you feel what you do is worthwhile?

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This blog is included in my e-book, 7 Secrets of Sensational Leaders, which is available for download. 

Photo credit: Lyn Boyer

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