COMMENTARY: Sharpen Your Ax

Ben was a new lumberjack who swung his ax with great power. He could fell a tree in 20 strokes, and in the first few days he produced twice as much lumber as anyone else. By week’s end, he was working even harder, but his lead was dwindling.

One friend told him he had to swing harder. Another said he had to work longer. Neither idea worked. Finally, an old fellow asked Ben how often he sharpened his ax. Ben said he had no time; there was too much to do.

The lesson of this parable contains the remedy to ineffectiveness in today’s workplace.

Dedicated executives may work enormous hours not realizing how much their failure to sharpen their ax by taking time off reduces their effectiveness. As one exceeds the limits of intellectual and physical stamina, both the quantity and quality of work suffer. Fatigue affects judgment and mental acuity, and soon the time and energy needed to fix errors offsets the extra time devoted to the task.

Organizations fail to sharpen their ax when they give short shrift to screening job applicants and training new hires. Burdened with heavy workloads, managers consumed by a sense of urgency to fill open positions succumb to the “warm body” fallacy – the false idea that anyone is better than no one.

You need three things in a good employee: competence, commitment, and character. Shortcomings in any area will be costly, consuming time and resources and damaging morale. Sharpening your ax in this setting means being more diligent in background checks, more selective in hiring, more serious in training, and more demanding during probation.

Without the right tools, hard work isn’t enough.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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