Leadership Lesson from a Sandcastle
I never knew you could take lessons to build sandcastles. But that’s exactly what I participated in on a recent family trip to South Padre Island. As I listened to the amiable Australian instructor relay sandcastle building techniques, one of them stood out.
My seven nieces and nephews were enchanted. But the adults were skeptical. Come on, we thought. Who needs a lesson to build sandcastles? Don’t you just make it up as you go by clumping fists full of sand on top of one other?
No. Actually, the previous evening, I took a leisurely walk on the beach with my nephew. We saw several sandcastles. They were all average in size and appearance except for one. We looked on as a couple stood under a tent, putting the final touches on a truly beautiful edifice, much like the photo of the sandcastle above. I was impressed. I had to ask them how they knew how to do that. And what do you know? They said they had taken sandcastle building lessons a few years back, and that was all it took.
Impressed, I attended the lesson with less resistance and listened attentively to the amusing instructor, Andy. He said there were only a few simple rules to building great sandcastles. First, castles should be built on a barrel so you don’t have to bend down, and to make it look taller. Second, you build with wet sand. And that’s why he had buckets filled with water and sand. Third, after you stack the wet sand to a high level, you use simple tools (like a straw, a pencil, and a metal cutting device) to chisel it starting from the top.
After he explained all of this, he stopped. He made sure we were paying close attention. He said, “Now remember, you always start at the top. Always.” The reason became obvious. If you work from the bottom up, the pieces from the top will tumble down onto the bottom, thus flawing your previous work.
I teamed up with my brother-in-law, Waddell, and we attempted to build the Arc de Triomphe. This was my first attempt to ever build a sandcastle. I have to admit, it was fun. The Arc de Triomphe was not a show stopper, but we did well for our first attempt. As we were building our masterpiece, I tested Andy’s theory. I was not all that careful with his final directive at first. It seemed easier to start with the bottom. But as I worked my way up to the top, my design on the bottom had to be reworked. I made this mistake several times, finally I relented.
It became very apparent to me that it is imperative to build the sandcastle from the top down. And I thought how similar this is to building organizations and teams. We get marred and scarred, ruined and disfigured, when the leaders at the top are not refined and chiseled first—when they are not the leaders they need to be.
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