Making The Road Easier For Those That Come After You

You travel the road best when you make it easier to those who come after you.

According to an old Chinese story, there was once a rich and powerful emperor. He was a kind and benevolent ruler, who presided over the most beautiful kingdom in the entire world. The only problem was that no one outside the kingdom ever got to enjoy its beauty because the kingdom was deep in the Dark Forest. And there were no roads that led into the forest. This troubled the emperor, so he decided to build a road that would be the most incredible road ever. It would allow people from all over the world to come and enjoy his perfect kingdom.

Upon completion of the new road, the emperor announced that he was going to hold a huge celebration party. He invited people from all over the world to travel the new road and come and join him in the celebration.

As an incentive, he announced that whoever traveled the road the best would receive a million dollar reward. The challenge was well received and thousands of people, from all over, traveled the road as well as they could. Some drove fancy cars; some jogged in tuxedos; others crawled on their hands and knees, and still others hovered over the road in hang gliders.

As each individual arrived at the kingdom, the emperor greeted them. “How did you like my new road?” he asked. Each person responded without fail, saying “It was the most beautiful road I have ever traveled. There were some lovely hills, a smooth pavement, and nice curves. It was perfect, except for the one pile of rock and debris left over from the construction crew. After swerving around that, I noticed no other flaws.” The emperor thanked each person and welcomed him or her into the kingdom. He said, “I will be announcing the reward winner later. So please enjoy the party until then.”

Hours passed and the crowd became restless. They repeatedly asked, “Who traveled the road the best? Who won the million dollars?” The emperor simply said, “I am not yet ready to announce the best traveler. Please continue enjoying the party.”

Finally, as the crowd was completely frustrated, a man stumbled through the kingdom gates. His shirt was torn; his hair was messy; he had blood on his arm, and he was completely exhausted. In his left hand was a burlap sack. The emperor greeted him and asked, “How did you like my new road?” The exhausted man answered, “It is the most beautiful and perfect road I have ever seen.”

Asked the emperor, “If it is so perfect, why are you so late?” The man responded, “Well, there was one pile of rock and debris left over from the construction. I decided to move the pile so no one would get hurt. By the way, I found this sack filled with a million dollars under the rocks. It must be yours.” The emperor corrected the man, “This sack of money is yours. You win the reward because you traveled the road best. You traveled it best because you made it easier for those coming after you.”

Well said. I think that’s the same calling we all have — to make the road easier for others. In fact, that’s the very essence of customer service, and it’s certainly a piece of leadership and team building. So how can you make the road easier for others?

But for today’s purposes, let me highlight a couple of things you can do to make the way easier for others.

=> 1. Give People A Sense Of Belonging

Teenagers say the number one reason they join gangs is for a sense of belonging. They long to have other people take interest in them and feel concern for them. They are searching for a sense of connection, oneness, and unity. And so are the people who join cults — and so are the negative employees in companies who congregate in the lunchroom to share the latest gossip.

A sense of belonging comes from being involved. Period. There is no substitute.

I had to come to grips with this reality when one of my daughters, at age six, asked me, “Daddy, why do you like speaking more than you like staying at home with me?” I was dumbfounded.

What could I say? “Because the audience claps and cheers when I speak. If you and your mom stood up and applauded when I walked through the door, I would stick around more.”

No! I had to deal with the fact that she was struggling with a lack of belonging. I had to cut back my schedule, spend more time with her, and make sure it was good, meaningful time. I wanted to give her a solid sense of belonging so her future would be safer, easier, and healthier.

The same goes for your work environment. If you want your people to give their very best, you’ve got to figure out lots of ways to keep them fully involved. You’ve got to find ways to engage the employees’ body, mind, and spirit. And when you do, their sense of belonging will come back to you in the forms of loyalty, quality, and productivity.

=> 2. Give People A Sense Of Dignity

As I tell people in my seminars, “People perform exactly as they see themselves.” If they see themselves positively, they perform positively. And if they view themselves with dignity, they will make good decisions and take noble actions.

And as strange as it may seem, lots of people lack dignity. I see it in junior-senior high kids wearing T-shirts that say something crude like “DO ME” — or wearing clothes that even a prostitute wouldn’t have worn a few years ago. It’s a lack of respect for one’s self.

And I see it in the corporate world when the CEO tells his employees to invest all their pension money in the company stock — while he’s selling his. He has no respect for the very people that made him rich. It’s a lack of dignity.

So how do you help others get a sense of dignity? When it comes to kids, it comes through discipline. It doesn’t come from letting kids “explore their individuality” at any costs. It doesn’t come from people fighting for personal rights instead of fighting for what’s right. As youth speaker Bob Lenz says, “Youth will not be responsible until they are held responsible.”

And the same goes for managers and employees on the job. Each and every one of your managers and employees must be held accountable. No one can feel truly good about himself if he “just gets by” at work or “pulls one over on the boss.” Oh, there may be a temporary sense of relief, but that’s a far cry from a sense of dignity.

You give people a sense of dignity when you inspect what you expect. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not a lack of trust. It’s not micro management. Your inspection is a statement of belief — that you believe it’s important to have the job done right — and you believe it’s important that the other person grow in the process.

What kind of road are you building for others? Are you paving a road of belonging and dignity? After all, you’re in the construction business.

Action:  Ask your team members to rate their sense of belonging in your organization. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, have them write a number on a piece of paper that indicates how “connected” and “in on things” they feel. Average out the scores. And then carry on a discussion as to what could be done to raise the average score at least one point.