The Stonemasons and the Janitor
While the headline might come across as odd, there is a common thread between the stonemason parable (of the Middle Ages) and the janitor incident at NASA. You will love the connection in the context of the work that you do. Are you a little curious to know more about this? Even if you are not, you will be with the following six words – let me tell you a story…
Many centuries ago, there were two stonemasons toiling day and night…They were doing exactly the same tasks…When asked if they liked their job, the first one said, “I work hard every day and I have been doing this job for a long time. Frankly, I don’t even know if this work will ever be done. It is boring. But it’s a job that pays my bills. So, I will continue to do it.”
‘What do you do?’ asked the traveller. “Can’t you see… I am cutting stones…Not only that, I also lift these stones, and then help others in building some wall.”
The second stonemason said something different. “I love what I do. I am doing something very important. I am building a cathedral.”
Isn’t this a completely different perspective of the same work?
Abraham Lincoln had said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
Same stuff…but completely different perspectives – one that leads to mediocrity and another that leads to excellence.
Let’s now get to our next story.
In the early sixties, the late US President John F. Kennedy visited NASA (Florida). During this visit, he saw a janitor carrying a broom. He walked over to him and asked him what he was doing. The janitor responded, “Mr. President, I am helping put a man on the moon.”
In that very one line, the man had connected his work to the real purpose of all NASA employees. The janitor was clear that by providing a clean and safe workplace, he was making a real difference to all the other employees of NASA. This janitor, like the second stonemason, knew that each person has a role to play… that each person has a contribution to make…More importantly, they could see how their individual contributions connected to the larger vision and purpose of the team/organization. That’s why the janitor was clear – together, they were putting a man on the moon.
Isn’t this mind blowing?
Do you see the connection between the stonemason and the janitor now?
I bet you do…
But do you see the connection between them and the work that you do?
What is it that you do?
Are you simply distributing mutual funds and/or other investment products?
Are you transforming the lives of people?
Are you selling investment products and/or the promise of timing (the markets) and selection (choosing the best small cap fund or portfolio management service)?
Are you helping people with the most important decisions of their financial lives or helping people align the use of their money with what’s important to them?
There will always be two ways to experience everything you see in life…as you can see from the above parable and the janitor anecdote.
– Building a cathedral versus cutting stones
– Cleaning the floor versus sending a human to the moon
– Distributing mutual funds versus transforming financial lives
It all boils down to your purpose…why you do what you do and the way you do what you do…the why and the how of your work…
In his 2021 book, “The Heart of Business – Leadership Principles for The Next Era of Capitalism”, Hubert Joly (ex-CEO of Best Buy) wrote, “Business is fundamentally about purpose, people, human relationships, emotional connections…This is because companies are not soulless entities…They are human organizations made of individuals who work toward a common purpose. When that common purpose aligns with their own individual searches for meaning, it can unleash a kind of human magic that results in outstanding performance.”
The architecture I am advocating (essentially the same one that we have been practicing for the last 18 years) has employees (we call them team members with a common purpose and vision) at the heart of the business, creating and nurturing caring and authentic relationships both within the company and also with all of the company’s stakeholders in a way that not only contributes to the company’s purpose but also creates great outcomes for each of these shareholders.
Doing great work for customers happens when employees relate to these customers as human beings, not walking wallets.”
In our case, great work happens when we and our team members relate to our customers as human beings, not walking assets.
Great work happens when we view our purpose differently.
It happens when we answer this question – What are we managing: assets or lives/humans?
Our customers don’t give us assets to manage or help with…They trust us with their financial lives.
Therefore, this business is not about money…It might seem like it is about money because money is the only visible instrument in this exchange. This business starts at the intersection of money and life. It’s about aligning the use of your client’s money with what’s important to her/him. Remember we are not dealing with robots. We are dealing with real people. We are dealing with their emotions, fear, anxieties, greed, biases, blind spots, and behaviour. And at the same time, we are helping them make important decisions about their financial lives. In the process, we not only help transform their lives, but we also help transform their children’s lives and future generation’s lives too.
We are expected to care…not just care, deeply care…We must deliver on their trust. Period…Anything lesser than this is simply not a benchmark of excellence.
Because this is how we build our cathedral…and this is how we send a woman/man to the moon, with excellence, love, and care.