Sweat Equity


My family spent a Saturday the week before school began a few years ago helping furnish our kids’ new charter school.  It was a real start-up operation, and all the families had to contribute at least 40 hours of service time to get the school up and running.

We scraped and washed hundreds of hand-me-down desks and chairs and then carried them up to their classrooms.  I took the kids, part out of necessity and part as an object lesson.  None of them were particularly interested in the project to begin with, but four hours later, my oldest had undergone a change of heart.  Not only did he enjoy contributing to the set-up of his own school, but he also surprised me by talking about how excited he was for school to begin.

C14 had never liked school before, so what brought about the new attitude?  Two words: sweat equity.  The transformation took place during hours of hard work.  With each desk he washed, C14 was making an investment in the school.  At the end of the day, he had a level of ownership and the pride that went with it.  When he got to class the next week, he enjoyed pointing out the desks and chairs he had worked on and telling his friends, “I helped get that here.”

At other schools he had attended, the adults did all the work.  They got everything ready for him, and all he had to do was show up.  As a result, the adults had the sweat equity, but the children did not.

There’s a great lesson in this for us as leaders: if we want our team members to be committed to something, we shouldn’t take all the responsibility for getting it up and running.  Sometimes we do it all, because we don’t think our team members will do it just the way we want it done.  Sometimes it’s because we think they have too much on their plate already.  Sometimes it’s because we just enjoy doing it ourselves.  But whatever the reason, when we shoulder all the responsibility, our team’s commitment to the new direction lags, and we are often left wondering why they aren’t as excited as we are.

Allow your team members in from the very beginning.  Let them help you come up with the vision, the action steps, the marketing, the communication….everything!  Then, let them join you in the set-up work.  The more you involve them, the more sweat equity they will have.  When it becomes their project instead of your project, they will make sure that it succeeds.

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Filed under buy-in, commitment, ownership

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