The Three Layers of Management

Imagine you come across three builders working on the same project. You ask each the same question: what are you working on? The first says, “I lay one brick after the other.” The second says, “I’m building a wall.” The third, “I’m erecting a cathedral.” What is the moral of this aphorism?

I see two.

The first is to keep the greater vision of our work in mind. Said another way, “If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea.”

The second is we work on different levels. Without the vision of the cathedral, we may never motivate ourselves to achieve grandeur. Instead, we might create a cluster of one-room, square red brick houses. Equally true: without the focus on the bricks or the wall, the cathedral will never be built. A grand vision lacking execution is just a dream.

It’s really hard to keep these three levels in mind all the time. I find myself trying to lay bricks as quickly as possible most days, forgetting about the evolution of the wall, much less the cathedral.

OKRs, Quarterly goal reviews and annual reviews certainly help. And I’ve tried to find a technique to translate those into weekly tasks. Recently, I’ve even begun categorizing how I spend my time each week to make certain it aligns with my quarterly goals.

I’ve been inspired by some amazing founders and partners who focus intensely on just their top three priorities. I envy their tenacity and focus on the daily masonry while maintaining a sense of the wall’s progress and the cathedral’s evolution.

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