There was a farmer who was well-known throughout the land as a magician with the soil. One day a land prospector shows up at the farmer’s door. He marvels at the bounty the farmer has pulled from his plot. He tells the farmer his reputation throughout the region is well deserved. No one has the harvest he has. He then tells the farmer that he wants to purchase his farm. He is willing to pay enough to make the farmer rich beyond his wildest dreams and will employ the farmer to work the land until the end of his days.
The farmer asks for an evening to sleep on it, and when the prospector returns the next day, he politely declines.
The prospector – disappointed – turns to leave and as he goes yells to the farmer, “What saddens me most is that I will now have to become your competitor. There is much more land here near this town and its soil is the same as yours. It too can be farmed successfully and with far greater profits. I had only hoped to include you in my great enterprise.” And with that, the prospector took his leave.
As he leaves, a boy who saw the exchange approaches the farmer. “But why?” he asks. “You could have been a rich man.”
The farmer nods, and motions towards the boy’s palms. “The magic of which the man spoke is not in the soil as he thinks. It is here, in your hands and in mine. I did not accept the man’s offer because he sought only to reap the harvest but knew nothing of growing and sharing its seeds. Such a man’s fortune cannot be trusted.”
So, who are you: the farmer or the prospector? Does one remind you of yourself? How about a colleague or boss throughout your career?
Chances are you want to be the farmer in this story. That’s a no-brainer. But chances are? You’re the prospector. So are most leaders.
That’s because most leaders haven’t learned or have forgotten the value of “getting their hands dirty” in establishing trust and managing opportunities to create bigger ones.
Most of us are only reaping the harvest. We are not seeing the bigger opportunities. We are not taking ownership of what we need to do for the betterment of a healthier whole.
Today’s leaders (regardless of hierarchy or rank) must be accountable to touch the business just as much as they lead it in order to establish or reestablish trust.
I learned this in my first corporate executive position at Sunkist from one of my mentors. He told me that whatever I did I should never forget that the minute I stopped touching the business would the minute I stopped understanding the business – its customers and my employees. He explained that the company had lost touch as it grew.
In the marketplace, that meant leaders were focused on growing rather than understanding. Most times they had no idea what was going on beneath the numbers or how to anticipate any problems because they did not touch the people in the field or knew how consumers were experiencing our products. They didn’t talk to the people in distribution and delivery; connect directly to what was happening in the stores, or see the looks on customers’ faces. And it had cost the company time and time again.
In the workplace, that meant leaders were over delegating and employees. They were failing to coach-up – leading at arm’s length – and employees were beginning to question whether or not their leaders actually knew what was required to get the job done.
When these situations happen in the workplace and marketplace, distrust rises. 21st-century leaders must be more “high touch” in order to effectively evaluate the business and their people. Ask yourself: Are you getting your hands dirty or are you merely acting the part? Leaders must earn the trust of their employees and stop believing that their titles, roles, and responsibilities automatically warrant trust from others. We must get our hands dirty. Failure to get our hands dirty is one of the biggest reasons employees don’t trust leadership.