About 7 years ago, my wife Jenny and I built a house. We met numerous times with the sales people and architects to design the layout, the placement of rooms and walls. We poured endlessly over carpet fabrics, window placements, cabinet styles, faucets finishes, tiles colors, and appliance options. After several months of details, negotiations and contracts, the work on our house began. Although we spent hours planning and dreaming about what the house would look like, when the contractors showed up on our lot to start building, they didn’t bring any of our carpet samples or cabinets with them. The brought a backhoe and began to dig. A week later they brought a cement truck and began to pour the foundation. It was several months before any of the details we spent so much time painstakingly planning began to be realized. Why? Because everything starts with laying a solid foundation.
Leadership often flounders and does not gain the necessary traction because of a failure by leaders to pay attention to the foundation of what is being built. Fortunately for my family, our contractors understood this and began with a solid foundation for our home.
As the Israelites returned from captivity in the book of Ezra we discover that they had a great plan for rebuilding temple in which they would be able to worship and glorify God once again. We read in Ezra 3:7 that “they gave money to masons and the carpenters” and they negotiated with “the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon.” However, we find that no work could be done until the foundation was laid. Although we must plan for all aspects of what we are leading, leaders must focus on the foundation.
In the next few verses we discover the passion with which they focused on ensuring the foundation was lead well. Ezra 3:10-11 records, “when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in there vestments came forward with trumpets… they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD.” Upon completion of the temple, the leaders took time to stop the building process and celebrate the this achievement.
They didn’t rush through the foundation to get to the exciting part of decorating and placing the accoutrements around the outside of the structure. The paused to reflect on what this moment meant. Zerubabbel and Jeshua gathered all the people to join in this celebration. “And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid… and the sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:11-13).
In our day and age we only “shout with a great shout” so the sound is “heard far away” when our favorite team or player makes a great play or a singer sings our favorite song in a dark, hazy concert venue. Leaders often show up to cut the ribbon, commission a building, sign a bill into law or join in a commencement ceremony. These moments are all important. However, without a focus on building a solid foundation, these moment never happen, or the glory of these moments is short lived.
Great leaders focus on the foundation. Great leaders spend time planning, nurturing, developing, and building the foundation of whatever they are seeking to lead. There is no press core or fanfare during the grunt work of foundation development. Great leaders take the time to celebrate, and teach those they follow to celebrate, the work required to establish a firm foundation.
How can we strategically invest time in the development and celebration of great foundation work today?