Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Ancient Proverb
Iron-Sharpeners are leaders and team-builders that align, utilize and sharpen the talents and strengths of others. They harness the power of unity out of diversity. They create team synergy through architecting a sense of genuine community and trust. At the same time, they’re focused and aligned in accomplishing a shared goal. Iron-Sharpeners bring out the best in others. There are many ways to do this.
Lessons From the Ancients
Here is my list of some practical ways we can “sharpen” one another, “like iron sharpens iron,” by first looking at how the ancients actually sharpened blades. We all know that a dull-edged blade can actually do more harm than good. When a blade is dull, it takes more force to use and it’s harder to control. All knives and bladed tools have a tendency to get dull with use over time. Edges wear off and chips occur. The ancient sharpening process of a sword, knife, or tool would usually include three steps:
- Pound out the iron
- Use an iron file or a piece of iron ore to rub out the defects and small chips on the side of the blade or tool
- Rub and polish the side of the blade in order to lift the edge so it will become as sharp as a (This is where the old expression, “He’s lost his edge” comes from.)
Keeping Your Edge
We all lose our edge just through the normal process of usage. We can all get rusty and become dull. Just like a knife or bladed tool needs friction to bring out its full potential, we too need to be buffed and polished by others so our capacity can increase and our character can expand. People who value the sharpening process willingly place themselves in environments where this calibrating process can happen in their own lives. They know that just as blades can’t restore themselves, they can’t sharpen themselves to full potential without the help of others. People need other people.
Staying Sharp (and Sharpening Others)
Here are 10 practical suggestions on how to sharpen people and bring the best out of them.
- Show genuine care for people. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John Maxwell.
- Provide clear expectations. People need to know where they stand at all times, what’s good, and what needs improvement.
- Engage in regular honest conversations. Accountability, truth-telling, crucial conversations, confronting difficult issues; be hard on issues and soft on people.
- Praise in public and correct in private. Brag publicly on the positive, but correct people behind closed doors so you don’t speak shame and guilt into their future.
- Discover and develop people’s strengths and passions. When you do you unlock their potential.
- Build genuine relationships. Conversation creates relationship, and trust is built upon it.
- Share the credit. Amazing what gets done when no one hogs the credit, and how something so simple motivates everyone.
- Speak vision and possibility into people. Believe that seeds of greatness are in every person on your team; use your influence to build others up.
- Share leadership. Look for opportunities to stretch and advance others upward; be ambitious for the success of one another.
- Have fun along the way. Fun, laughter and humor is the shortest distance between two people. – Victor Borge
Iron-sharpening is a 21st century skill that unlocks wealth creation in all of its forms (financial, relational, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, organizational, personal, etc.). Iron-Sharpeners polish others so they have an opportunity to grow, learn, share, expand, and transform. Hearts are encouraged. Minds enlightened. Spirits inspired. Leaders and supervisors who can help sharpen others know the benefits of two blades rubbing together. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
A Sense of Community Strengthens the Heart
When a work team has been sharpened as “iron sharpens iron,” hearts are strengthened. Experiencing community dispels discouragement and fatigue among members. Like the old Kenyan proverb says, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” One of the benefits of community is the encouragement, strength, and support that are available to each person when they are inter-connected with each other.
Redwoods that grow in Northern California are known to reach almost 350 feet tall. But that’s not what’s amazing. It’s the roots––they are only six to 12 feet deep and they spread out horizontally 50 to 80 feet on each side of the tree! The reason the giant redwoods don’t fall over in stormy weather is that their root systems are intertwined with each other. The roots from other surrounding trees actually support the lone redwood swaying in the wind. It’s the grove of trees and the roots of the surrounding redwoods that support the individual trees. In times of stress, they can lean on the others. It’s a beautiful picture of strength in the midst of community.
The same is true in our lives. As we are able to lean on one another in times of difficulty, fatigue, and discouragement, we’re strengthened and we’re better because of it. Cultivating a work team culture that genuinely cares for, supports, and encourages its members will prosper. Iron-Sharpeners know this and do their best to build work cultures that provide this for their members. It’s not fake or cheesy. It’s genuine to the core, and people at work come alive. Everyone wins: the team, the members, the leaders, the company, the customers, and the bottom line.