Leaders Are Tillers, Not Bulldozers

The dictionary defines a bulldozer as a “large, powerful tractor having a vertical blade at the front end for moving earth, tree, stumps, rocks, etc.” It also defines it as a person who “intimidates or coerces.”

A tiller, on the other hand, is a machine or person that labors, “as by plowing upon the land for the raising of crops and to cultivate.”

I could probably stop this post without further elaboration and readers would understand why one illustrates a true leader and the other doesn’t. But if it were that simple, there wouldn’t have been any readers who said to themselves, “Yeah. I am (or my boss is) a bulldozer.”

I think there are lessons in the two examples for current leaders and those who aspire to be leaders. Let me explain.

Picture a bulldozer, whose job is to muscle its way through dirt, rocks and anything in its way to get to its goal. While it may ultimately reach the goal, the destruction in its path can be substantial. And though someone may come behind the bulldozer to smooth over that razed area and make it look pristine, the pieces of earth and materials that were picked up, roughed up and discarded will never be quite where (or what) they were before. Goal reached, but what was gained and/or damaged in the process?

The tiller, on the other hand, approaches the earth with the purpose of plowing up (like a bulldozer), but in a way that churns the soil and makes it ready for cultivation and growth. It doesn’t roughly pick up and throw to the side or to a pile without thought for what’s being discarded for the sake of reaching the goal. It includes everything that’s on the ground in its cultivation, only discarding the pieces that truly don’t fit and will keep the ground from producing.

As a leader, which are you? Are you charging full steam ahead, congratulating yourself and your company for reaching goals without regard to what, who or how you might have damaged people or things along the way? Or are you a tiller - digging and churning the ground and all that goes with it for the purpose of cultivating and growing on the path to reaching goals?