Building Cathedrals

Good to Great
September 1, 2018

As we begin the General Assembly, a 300-year-old story serves as a reminder of the power of purpose and the importance of viewing our work as something bigger than ourselves. Over the years, I had heard a story of a bystander observing two workers laying bricks. The first laborer when asked what he was doing responded, “I’m laying bricks.” The second responded, “I’m building a cathedral.” Like you, I’ve considered myself to be more like the “cathedral builder,” but from time to time I think we all fall into the “bricklayer” rut and need to be reminded of the big picture.  This reminder seems especially fitting at the beginning of a new year and the start of a legislative session.

My quest to learn more about this powerful story led me to Sir Christopher Wren who is known in England as one of the greatest architects of all times. He was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral after the fire of 1666 that leveled London. One day in 1671, Christopher Wren observed three bricklayers on a scaffold. One crouched, one half-standing and one standing very tall, working very hard and fast. To the first bricklayer, Christopher Wren asked, “What are you doing?” to which he replied, “I’m working, I’m a bricklayer.” The second bricklayer, responded, “I’m building a wall.” The third bricklayer, the most productive of the three, the future leader of the group, when asked, “What are you doing?” with a gleam in his eye responded, “I’m building a Cathedral to The Almighty.”

Not only had I found the origin of a fascinating story about the power of purpose, I had discovered much more! I had an ideal leader in Christopher Wren. Wren appears to have been a balanced leader who clearly understood the need for both management and leadership. Christopher Wren was an inspirational leader who got out from behind his desk, even when the demands of his job said he was too busy, challenging others to see the “big picture.” Maybe in 2014 we can all be the “Christopher Wren,” the one who makes sure our fellow lawmakers, our fellow lobbyists, our clients, our constituents see beyond the legislation, ensuring they see the “cathedral.”

An equally powerful metaphor in this 300 year old story is one of a “fire,” representing the setbacks in not only our personal lives, but in our organizations, in our government. Interestingly, London was a less than desirable place before the fire. Poor sanitation, prostitution and10,000 people a year dying of the plague. The number one cause of the plague was rats and fleas. But after the fire, the diseased rats and fleas were eradicated and the leaders of London were determined to rebuild London into the great city that it is today.

We’ve all experienced our share of “fires,” both personally and organizationally, but like London, we too can emerge better, stronger and faster. The recent S.O.A.R (Shaping Our AppalachianRegion) summit is a wonderful example of how the “Christopher Wrens,” on both sides of the isle, have come together and are developing workable solutions to rebuild the Southern and Eastern Kentucky “Cathedral.” And, there’s no doubt that Southern and Eastern Kentucky will rebuild and become even better, stronger and faster!

In my recent book, “Building Cathedrals: The Power of Purpose,”I define a “cathedral” as a personal expression of purpose. So before the Session really heats up, perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves a few basic questions. What’s our “cathedral?” Do we see the Commonwealth of Kentucky as the “cathedral” that it is? Do we view our advocacy efforts as “cathedrals” or are we simply “laying bricks?” Is it time to start building our “cathedral?” or maybe building our “cathedral” with more energy, more passion and more dedication?

The “bricklayers” in the story provide the foundation for some serious soul searching regarding our personal engagement. Which “bricklayer” are we? What role do we play in helping that colleague, that constituent, that staff member, see the “cathedral?” Is your company, your caucus, your firm a culture of “bricklayers,” simply going through the motions or is it a culture of “cathedral builders?”

I’ll be honest. I’ve been all three “bricklayers.” But it’s important to note that legislative effectiveness, customer loyalty and constituent satisfaction are all built at the “cathedral builder” level not at the “bricklayer” level. So after that long weekend attending numerous community/political events, after that 3 hour commute back to Frankfort on a Monday morning, and after those 10 hour days reviewing 300 plus bills, our collective “cathedrals” demand that we pull ourselves back up, sharpen our tools and never lose sight of the big picture, never stop building the “cathedral!”