Sharpening The Saw

October 19, 2012

Career, Leadership

7th Habit

Image by Michelle Meiklejohn:

Working on an intense project is hard work but in the end it is worth it when you know your team will ship something of which you will all be proud.  After each milestone, it is very important to remember to take time to renew or “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. When a team goes through an intense period to deliver a milestone or to complete a project, we all need time to renew, which may be more than the obvious need for a few days away from the office.

If you are not familiar with the lumberjack story on which the seventh habit is based, this website describes it with a bit of a different twist:

… the smaller woodsman, well, he was not surprised.  For he knew all along that in order to win especially against a larger competitor, his instrument had to be continually sharpened.  His axe was smaller and therefore each swing must be more accurate in order to produce the better product. By stopping to sharpen his instrument, he had proven, once and for all, that he was the better man for the job.

The moral of the story:  Continual improvement always delivers the best results.

While time away from the office with total rest and relaxation is important, you also need to remember to take time and sharpen your saw.  This means taking time to learn, improve, share and reflect.  There are a number of activities that can help do this:

  • Participate in a lunch-and-learn at the office
  • Attend a professional development class or conference
  • Write in a personal journal or in your blog
  • Lead or participate in a retrospective
  • Coach someone
  • Learn a new skill

Any activity that will give you the energy and skills to do your job better will sharpen that axe.

This week I am attending the PMI Leadership Institute Meeting, followed by the PMI Global Congress.  It’s only the first day of a packed week-long schedule, but I already feel like it’s exactly what I needed to sharpen my saw.  Trust me, I left work feeling like I did not have time to do this and even my colleagues teased me about working during my vacation.  I experienced the same pressure I am sure we all feel.  However, I already know I will go back to work renewed.

Do take time to sharpen your saw?  What do you do to renew your energy and develop your skills?

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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4 Comments on “Sharpening The Saw”

  1. Terry Says:

    Great article Liza. Excellent way to remind us that we all continually need to improve like our teams and clients.


    • Liza Says:

      Thanks! I have to admit that this “working” vacation at a conference is doing a lot to recharge my batteries and sharpen the saw.



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