2016 – spring Issue

Leadership and Geology

One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Freeman?s character, Red, narrates a summary near the end of the movie:

?In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a man six hundred years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty. Oh, Andy loved geology. I imagine it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That?s all it takes really, pressure, and time.?

Patience has never been my strong suit. At age 54, perhaps I can claim to have mellowed a bit, but my natural inclination is to expect things to happen quickly. I don?t like waiting in lines. Stalled traffic frustrates me. Delays of any kind are annoying.

I might try to sell you on the idea that impatience is merely a negative name for a ?get it done? attitude. Who would find fault with impatience if you saw it as a bent toward action and making things happen? In our role as leaders, though, there are times when we must temper our zeal for getting things done with the need for patience. One of the real tests for leaders is knowing when and how hard to push and knowing when we must allow for things to develop over time.

Certainly our businesses do not allow us the time span that Andy Dufresne had to tunnel out of Shawshank.

Clearly there are things that we must do quickly, like responding to clients who are facing an urgent challenge or addressing punch list items. On the other hand, there are things that take more time.

Developing people is a long-term proposition. It takes time for people to grow into new roles. Learning new skills while continuing to do one?s job slows the process. The opportunities to learn key skills may not come along at the ideal time, and people may need to wait for the chance to rise to new challenges. The pace at which people grow and develop requires a leader to affirm progress, even if it seems slow.

While patience is important, developing people takes more than time. Some pressure accelerates learning and growth. It requires intentional effort, balance, and truly knowing those you are leading. It takes specific action. It takes focus. Ideally, you want people to be self-motivated. You can?t force development, but you can certainly encourage it with great leadership. As the old saying goes, and as Andy Dufresne can testify, ?Pressure either bursts pipes or creates diamonds.? He would likely agree that we could learn a lot about developing people just by studying geology. All it takes is time and pressure.