Keep Working on Yourself -

Becoming a Sharp Axe

"If I had eight hours to cut down a tree, I would use six hours to sharpen my axe."
- Abraham Lincoln

This great quote illustrates the wisdom, insight and excellence of one of the most remarkable leaders in the history of the United States.  Six hours he says he would take to sharpen his axe.  Why six?  Taking a dull axe to chop down a tree makes the job six times more difficult for you – you are less efficient.  And it makes it six times more painful than it needs to be for the tree – you are not as effective as you could be.  Using a dull axe for a critical job will require more strength from you and it will ultimately make the axe less effective, less reliable and in the end the axe will make less than perfect cuts making the outcomes of less desirable quality.

Most people will see the relationship between leaders and the people they lead being much like the axe and the tree; the leader uses people as if they are the axe to accomplish a task.  But how many leaders do you know who are accomplished woodcutters?  How many leaders do you know who are qualified to wield an axe with great precision?  The key to developing yourself to be an uncommon person is to keep working on yourself as much as you will have to work on others; people do not willingly put themselves into the hands of an unskilled unaccomplished leader.

The most effective leaders learn you can either be the person who provides the resource to others or you can become the resource to others; but they never see others as the tool or resource for themselves.  You see, instead of taking six hours to sharpen the axe, they choose to become the axe, taking six hours to sharpen themselves before they place themselves into the hands of the people they lead.  Uncommon people never permit others to chop away at life with a dull axe in a frantic attempt to be successful.   If your axe is dull all the skill, determination or motivation you can muster will not produce your desired outcomes.

So, whether you are the leader who acts as the tool others use or whether you provide the tool, the benefits of sharpening the axe are transformational.  With a sharp axe people learn to:

  • See the perfection possible from their efforts; they are perfected by their tool;
  • Spend adequate time on both the necessary and the essential; the axe is essential to chop the tree; a sharp axe is necessary to chop the tree efficiently;
  • Never stop becoming more qualified for their roles; successful ways breed more success;
  • Develop their people by managing the tasks they are asked to perform; people never become the tool or resource of the leader and;
  • Become the best at the things they put their hands to do; a sharp effort requires a sharp tool to deliver consistently sharp results.

There are very few people or businesses that can achieve and sustain success using a dull axe as their tool of choice.  At best you become amateurs at many things and professionals at few.  With dull tools they will never be able to chop enough trees to satisfy the increasing demands for more productivity.  What makes a skilled lumberjack the best is the time they invest in caring for and perfecting the tools they use in their trade.

If you want to become an uncommon leader start by learning to take the time to sharpen the axe you need to be for others; if you want to improve your personal and professional effectiveness start by sharpening the tools you will need to accomplish the tasks you will be asked to accomplish.  Either way a sharp tool is what you want to be or what you want to use and in some cases it is both.  Keep working on yourself.