The Leaning Tower of Pisa was constructed in three stages over 177 years. Work on the ground floor of the white marble bell tower began in 1173. The tower began to sink after construction had progressed to the second floor five years later. This was due to a mere three-meter foundation, set in weak, unstable subsoil, a design that was flawed from the beginning. Fortunately, builders have learned a few things since then.

When Julie and I built our current home I discovered that leadership corresponds to the phases of home building. Constructing a house occurs in three major phases: foundation, framing and finish-out.

Building a team, like building a house, requires starting from the ground up. Your foundation, like your values, affects your team the same way all the time. When you lay a foundation, the home builder is committed to a certain floor plan. This floor plan dictates how the house will flow. The team builder is committed to foundational values – how his/her team will flow and interact.

I remember the first time I expressed my leadership values to my team as a new vice president. I called them “Lee’s 3 F’s”: Focused, Fair and Fun. They formed the foundation for what I expected from my team and what they could expect from me.

Framing defines the parameters (systems and processes) within which each team member performs their job. Leadership framing consists of goal setting, training, decision-making processes, work procedures, problem solving – all the mechanisms used to get work done.

The finish-out adds the final, personal touch – it makes each house special and each relationship unique. Finish-out makes each person think that the house or team they built is their very own. As a result, they treat it with a sense of ownership vs. an “apartment job” they view as short-term. Leadership finish-out comes in the form of building relationships and trust with your team by living your values, by walking your talk.

Regardless of how well-designed your framing and finish-out are, your team’s house can only be as strong as the leadership foundation you build … and your commitment to inspire excellence can only be as strong as your foundation.

Sometimes cracks in your foundational values are difficult to detect. The natural tendency is to fix the problem at hand. You see a crack in the floor tile, so you replace the tile. A bedroom door doesn’t swing quite right, so you adjust the hinges. A window doesn’t close flush, so you caulk the bottom to seal the gap.

Cracks in your team’s foundational values can initially look like a simple finish-out or framing problem. It’s funny how we can find ourselves continually fixing the same framing and finish-out problems – symptoms –  and we miss the deeper crack in our values. For instance, you might have several departments that are not keeping each other in the loop, so you restructure departments. This quick solution will not address the root cause of lack of mutual trust.

If you find yourself dealing with the same issues repeatedly, you are probably not going deep enough with your solutions. What looks like an innocent crack in the wall (a small blip in employee turnover) could actually indicate a deeper crack in your foundation (your team sees a disconnect between values and actions).

Inspiring leaders look beyond the symptoms to ensure that they are protecting team values. They know they must pour a strong foundation before they build a house to lead in.

Action Questions:

1. Is my team clear about our team values?

2. Does my team know my leadership values?

3. What can I do to ensure my values guide my behavior and the behavior of my team?


Leadership Matters is full of simple truths that everybody can use in their work and life.  Read this little book and thoroughly consider its timeless messages.  It will make you a better leader and a better person.

Ken Blanchard
Co-author, The One Minute Manager and Great Leaders Grow