Call it an epiphany. While shopping recently, I came upon this random pairing of pieces on a store shelf (pictured above). The juxtaposition hit me like a thunderbolt. Most likely, a store clerk just placed these items next to each other without any thought as to what they might represent together. Of course, out came my cell phone camera to preserve the moment!
Why the thunderbolt? Please allow me to explain. One of the illustrations I frequently use in my training workshops when talking about accomplishing goals is of a person struggling to push a big rock uphill, all by themselves. The sculpture pictured here is perfect symbolism for that — it’s the tragic Greek figure Sisyphus. In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra, punished by the gods for his deceitfulness, by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity. The gods thought that there was no more dreadful a punishment than futile and hopeless labor.
EVERYONE has “rocks” — It’s all in how you decide to roll them
This sculpture positioned next to the clocks got me thinking: How much TIME and ENERGY do we waste trying to push our "rocks" (projects, goals, challenges, or duties) uphill by ourselves? Heck, everyone has rocks, in all different shapes and sizes. And many times, available help is all around us to share the load for our tedious journeys uphill. But sometimes we don’t summon those resources. We don’t notice them. We want to go it alone. We don’t look out from behind the big rock in front of us. Yet helping hands can make for lighter work. Share the load, save some time — and valuable energy, too.
Does the idea of pushing rocks uphill by yourself sound daunting? Has it ever happened to you? Have you ever seen this in action with others around you? It’s painful to watch. And it’s even more painful to experience. Good news! In today’s world, unlike Greek mythology, this can often be avoided.
Lessons learned from failure are often the most valuable lessons
Some people get the idea that there is something wrong or weak about asking for help – that there is more glory or satisfaction in accomplishing things all by oneself, without help. Certainly, there are things we need to do (and can only do) by ourselves. For example, others can’t run a race or swing a golf club for us. They can’t stand in for us during a job interview. They can’t hold the brush while we paint. But there are plenty of goals and challenges that can be — and should be — aided by others. There is no badge of honor in doing things the hardest way. It’s the BEST WAY that counts the most.
We learn very valuable lessons from our failures and trevails of rolling rocks uphill alone. Steve Peterson, Vice President of Marketing and Channel Development for CellarStone Inc., tells a sad tale of trying to go it alone while working for a start-up software company earlier in his career: “We spent a lot of time pushing our rocks uphill, and we failed because we didn’t hire the expertise to deliver the solutions our customers needed. In essence, I over-extended myself by trying to develop skills that I didn’t have any formal training in. I tried to wear too many hats – sales, marketing, business development, and implementation.”
Others have also learned valuable lessons from the failure of engaging help to roll the rocks. “If you don’t bring the proper resources to bear, you’ll end up losing,” states Richard Rue, president of The Volare Group, an executive recruiter for Fortune 1000 companies in Silicon Valley. “I was a B2B software salesperson at the time, and I went into my presentation to customers without enough technical resources, people who could have done a great presentation with me. We needed a team, and we didn’t have a team. It was a mediocre effort and we did not get the business. I think I was naïve about my chances of going it alone.”
Peterson and Rue learned tough and long-lasting lessons about rolling rocks uphill by themselves, but they are not alone. Who hasn't felt the time-suck and the whirlpool of impending disaster, even in the little tasks, when their rock's weight overwhelms even their strongest solo efforts. It’s disarming.
Experience is a great teacher
“You learn from experience,” adds Peterson. “Another start-up I was involved with, Whole Earth Networks, was a clear case of rocks and clocks. Our big rock was the acquisition of new customers, which we were doing at a rate faster than we could support them. And the big clock was ticking for us because if we didn’t provide the timely network service and support, we would lose customers. It was a Catch-22. Instead of trying to roll that rock uphill by ourselves or just throw more hardware at it, we brought in experts to help us roll the rock in the right direction and make us smarter, better able to respond to our customers’ problems and opportunities. We wanted to get to the point where the rock was rolling downhill.”
You have to get out in front of it, as David Rubens, president of Bay Magic Meetings & Tours in the San Francisco Bay Area, offers. “I can't reinvent the wheel when putting together my clients' events. I’m only one person, and I know it. It was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I’d be setting myself up to fail. Now, I bring in the experts necessary to help me provide my customers with a successful event.”
Share the load – It’s OK!
Smart individuals and organizational/team leaders recognize that it takes helping hands to roll the bigger rocks up to the top of Success Hill in a timely and effective manner. They know better than to go it alone.
Phil Anderson, general manager of the dusitD2 Hotel Constance Pasadena shares a tale from his days as general manager of the Whiteface Lodge, a luxury resort in Lake Placid, NY: “When I got there, its food and beverage operation was not turning a profit. My big rock was being tasked with turning it around and making it profitable, in addition to my other duties. With my hotel background, I have overall knowledge of food and beverage, but I do not cook omelets, trim steaks, or bake pastries. I hired those professionals, shared the goals, defined what our success should look like, and then managed the effort. We turned it around in that first year, but it took many hands all working together to do it. Each person played an important role in getting that rock up the hill. It was definitely a team accomplishment.”
Be careful — Not all help is created equal – “2-6-2”
There is a catch, however. With additional so-called “help” on your rock-rolling team, you can lose some quality focus, or even overall control of the mission itself. That can mean failure. It reminds me of Lucille Ball and her friend Ethel Mertz in that iconic 1950s “I Love Lucy” TV episode, when they were brought in to box the chocolates on the conveyor belt. It ended up in a hilarious disaster. They were physically there to help, but certainly not up to the task. More hands? Yes. Were they helpful hands? No way.
Thus, some people you engage to assist you may not really be doing all that much in the way of helping. So choose wisely. And invest the time and resources to train and coach them so that they really do help. Committees especially come to mind here.
For example, I have a "2-6-2" rule-of-thumb when it comes to committees working toward goals. My personal experience is that with a typical committee of ten people, two do most all of the real work, 2 never manage to show up for whatever reasons, and the other 6 come in and out of the process as they can. If you’ve ever been on a committee, you know what I mean. Grrr!
So, it is very important not to dilute, delay, or destruct the goal or mission simply because you’re adding more hands behind the rock. Manage the process or you will be doomed to have the process manage you.
To get your rock to the top of Success Hill, I recommend these steps:
* Don’t wait too long to decide that you need help. There is nothing wrong with forming what I call “alliance partnerships” to help get the job done; * Bring people on board who have the expertise, the time, and the inclination to help move the process forward with you; Train and coach them if needed * Explain up front the rules of engagement, your desired quality outcome, the communication protocols, and the time deadline; * Divide the work up in ways that make sense, utilizing the expertise and talents of your team properly; * Periodically check on things – DO NOT TRUST AUTO-PILOT! Hold people accountable for their share of the rock’s load, and make sure there is one person who is unquestionably the team leader for the project.
Ultimately, the most important thing to consider is that YOU own your goal. It's ultimately YOUR mission, YOUR responsibility. Decide wisely whether success can be achieved better as a lone wolf, or better served if the rock's load is shared by others. Don’t be sucked down into the quagmire with your rock just because your ego is at risk. After all, the ultimate test is the end product, the end result, the accomplishment.
And besides — Looking at that sculpture of Sisyphus on the store shelf and seeing what he has to do for the rest of eternity just doesn’t look like all that much fun, does it?