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  • Writer's pictureEdgehill Consulting Group

Sharpen Your Ax: Learn. Grow. Lead.

Abraham Lincoln perhaps said it best when he said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will use the first four sharpening the ax.”

This past Monday our six member Edgehill team got together for our weekly stand-up meeting (virtual, of course!). While waiting for the full troops to gather a few of us started talking about the current Covid-19 situation and how our lives were being impacted by the statewide Virginia quarantine. After rolling our eyes about the crazy toilet paper shortages an interesting thing happened. We realized that each of us had independently decided to turn this unprecedented situation into a way to grow and build stronger versions of ourselves. One team member had signed up for a Yale University Online Course called the Science of Well-Being. Another team member had started detailed online coursework on Azure and AWS. And yet another teammate was using their time to expand their knowledge and skillsets with Healthcare Systems.

By the time the entire team had gathered on Zoom it was clear we had our first new task to add to our virtual whiteboard - personally and collectively we all were tasked with finding more ways to continuously expand our horizons and “sharpen our axes.” Not something new, we are always continuous learners, simply more deliberate in times we are all being pulled in different directions to respond to COVID-19 for our clients and families.

Have you ever heard The Lumberjack Story? If not, it goes something like this…

There were only two lumberjacks left in the final round of the Annual Lumberjack Competition. One was an older experienced lumberjack and the other was a brawny young man. The rules were simple. Whoever cut down the most trees in the allotted time would win.

The younger lumberjack was full of enthusiasm and went off into the woods and started cutting trees immediately. He worked all through the day, barely taking time to catch his breath or to grab some food and water. He naturally assumed that his strength, speed and stamina would allow him to win. 

When the final whistle blew, the younger lumberjack felt confident until he turned and saw the more experienced lumberjack’s pile of wood.

Devastated, the younger man asked, “How can this be? I heard you taking breaks while I worked continuously. I am younger, fitter, and stronger than you. How could you possibly have beat me?”

The older man smiled and said, “I did not stop to rest. I only stopped to sharpen my ax.”

So, what does “Sharpening the Ax” really mean? According to Dr. Stephen Covey who popularized the analogy in his best-selling book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People it means “increasing your personal production capacity by daily self-care and self-maintenance.” 

“Sharpening the Ax” is a time to renew and refresh oneself physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially/emotionally. Think of it this way – as leaders our strength comes from our ability to think logically, sympathetically, quickly, etc. By sharpening our minds (our “axes”) we increase our strength. And by encouraging our colleagues to sharpen their minds, we open up the possibility for our company’s strength to grow exponentially!

As leaders and executives, it is important to recognize the difference between refreshing one’s mind and simply taking a vacation (*both are important). Humans absolutely need to take breaks to enjoy time with family and friends and to avoid the inevitable productivity slumps that come with exhaustion. Just remember, taking a vacation is analogous to putting an ax down not sharpening it. The ax will not miraculously sharpen itself while it lays around. It must still be sharpened regularly to perform at maximum capacity or peak efficiency. “Sharpening your Ax” has more to do with keeping yourself and your team alert and perceptive than rested. It allows employees to break through ruts and look at things with fresh eyes. It effectively acts as a strength multiplier!

The following are a few examples of “Sharpening the Ax” activities:

1. Reading a book (or part of a book) daily

2. Participating in philosophical debates or discussions with someone with a differing viewpoint

3. Encouraging open discussions about items your team should continue, stop and start

As you can see these activities are not always easy, but they are activities that will keep your outlook sharp as a leader and team member. 

This is not a new concept. Japanese companies, like Toyota, have used Kaizen to keep themselves sharp for years. Kaizen is the Japanese word for a “good change” (Kai = change, Zen = good). It drives improvement of all company functions, at every hierarchical level, from CEO to the front-line employees. The Kaizen mindset ensures that employees stay alert, and have the problem-solving tools and mindset to drive a continuous improvement culture. In Kaizen, problems are seen as opportunities to improve. If you have ever worked with our team, you know no problem is a bigger problem than making the problems visible! (chew on that for a minute!)

In turbulent times honing one's skillsets and expanding one's knowledge base becomes even more important and relevant. The only certainty right now is that this current crisis will end and those companies that have been sharpening their axes will be prepared for whatever the world’s new business norm is. We cannot predict exactly where things are going, but we can prepare ourselves by opening up our minds to receive new information, opinions and skillsets.

This week we challenge you to “sharpen your axes.”  Take this time to improve your daily operations, your business processes, your technical proficiencies and your human interactions – or whatever areas interest you and make your mind whirl. 

Here are three areas to consider: 

(1) Technology: Cloud Platforms

(2) Leadership: Navigating Turbulent Times

(3) Lean Management Systems

(1) Technology: Cloud Platforms

Attached is a document outlining free training resources for leaders and executives interested in becoming more familiar with the two most widely used public cloud platforms Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure. We have broken each platform into two sections to make digesting the topics more manageable.

Section 1: This is an introduction or primer into technologies that will help clarify the different cloud models, pricing scenarios and provide some high-level guidance on why companies would choose to leverage a public cloud for their technology needs.  This first section is easily digestible and will take under 2 hours.

Section 2: This section contains the initial certification paths for both AWS and Azure.  Upon completion of either of these you will have the necessary knowledge to take the certification exam for their respective initial certifications.  This second sections contain all of the information from section 1 so if certification or deeper knowledge is your goal you can start with section 2.

(2) Leadership: Navigating Turbulent Times, Free Event April 30, 4pm - 5pm

“Quarantini” style!  

If you weren’t able to join us at the January Find Your Edge 2020 Business Transformation Summit, we have good news! Our esteemed, open and honest executive panel has agreed to hold a virtual happy hour panel addressing leaders concerns, challenges and approaches to dealing with the environment that has shifted all of our worlds overnight. So, grab a glass of wine, a “quarantini” or just a glass of water and join us for this happy hour event that we tailored to what you are going through right now as a leader. 

(3) E-Learning Series: Value Stream Mapping on April 28 & 29 and/or People Systems on May 19 & 20 

Will you be ready to drive the improvements you need when the offices and plants re-open? Brush up on Lean tools and leadership skills through The Murli Group’s new E-Learning Series right from your home office!

Please let us know if there are other areas of interest that we can help you with or if we can provide you with more help in Azure and AWS. We are here to help you “sharpen your axes!”

Written By Jason Bane

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