The Foundation Stones of Leadership

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Author: Jayna al'Taryn

In "The Foundation Stones of Leadership", Don MacRae discusses "work[ing] on a strategic-action plan meeting with the CEO and executive team of a large international company" (2002, p. 1). The CEO began the meeting by discussing the past successes and failures as well as outlining the goals for the future, asking each of the executives to return with strategic objectives for the next year. The CEO was disappointed with the executive's initial responses. At this point Don MacRae likened the overall meeting to a time management analogy he observed from a colleague, Harold Taylor. Harold Taylor employed the idea of trying to fit water, sand, gravel and big rocks into a container. Although Don MacRae failed to utilize the analogy to its fullest potential, the basic idea is that if we do not begin with the "big rocks" (2002, p. 2) we will never get them in at all. After adapting the analogy to the meeting, the CEO restated the company goals outlining the priorities to the executives and gave them another hour to work on their objectives. The executives returned with objectives that matched the direction the company wished to move in. Overall the article was not remarkable; however, the analogy had such potential that it captured my imagination.

The Analogy

Don MacRae only looks at the big rocks in his article equating them with those objectives that are the "musts" (2002, p. 2) for the achievement of the strategic plan and disregards the rest. By only focusing on the main ideas, he makes a great case for clear communication, clear direction and clear priorities in planning; but overlooks some key ideas that are potentially major factors in the overall design of any plan. Perhaps it is just my background in and love for geology that spurred my reasoning beyond what Don MacRae put forth. It seems that by looking beyond the "big rocks" we can find a more useful analogy that helps us bridge the gaps between where we are and where we would like to be. The big rocks represent the corporations overall focus and strategy. The gravel represents the competitive strategy that allows the company to excel in one area above the competition. The sand represents the functional strategy, the movement from here and now to where the company wants to be. The water represents the environmental and social considerations that permeate all organizations and all walks of life, which is also necessary for all life, and affects everything it comes in contact with. In order to further explain this extended analogy, I am going to use and the plan to build the City of Tar Valon.

The Big Rocks=Corporate Level Strategy

The stones of have always been to be the largest, most respected Wheel of Time (WOT) site on the Internet. As the Tower began to overflow its initial container, it became necessary to expand the site to build a larger container; the City of Tar Valon was born. The sheer immensity of creating and connecting new boards, new intranet websites, and hosting with new servers challenged the existing structure of the overall Tower. The founder and the City Planning committee decided on a related diversification strategy. By expanding outside the ideas and concepts of the Tower and into a surrounding City, TarValon.Net diversified into a new market area while retaining its original focus. These new rocks demanded a change in the overall structure to fill in the new gaps and provide additional support and stability so the entire structure would not collapse.

The Gravel=Competitive Strategy

The overall purpose of is to provide a place for people who love The Wheel of Time novels to come and discuss ideas and theories and generally have fun with like-minded individuals. TarValon.Net strives to differentiate itself from the hundreds of other WOT sites by maintaining its focus on the Tower and surrounding area, not the entire WOT world. Although has the most comprehensive and clearly defined set of laws governing any WOT site that define the limits of certain behaviors, they are in place to allow people of all persuasions an environment in which to relax and play, to flourish creatively, and develop friendships with people from around the world. The structure is the gravel that fills in the gaping holes and adds support to any organization.

The Sand=Functional Strategy

The sand of any organization, and especially are the people associated with the organization. People provide labor, creativity and innovation. People are what utilize structure to bridge the gap between existing and developing plans to move forward toward some goal, objective, or dream. At many of the people, especially the 270 some members who remained active for more than a month, enhance the creativity and overall flavor of the community by creating artwork, stories, poems, songs, theories, humor, analogies, and clubs outside the original structure. Many members have positions in which they voluntarily dedicate anywhere from 20-80 hours a week to enhance the vision of the City of Tar Valon.

The Water=Environmental and Social Considerations

Finally, the water binds the gaps between the big rocks, gravel, and sand. Water, like these considerations, affects everything it touches. Water can destroy the toughest rock, erode the tallest mountain, slip in the smallest of cracks and break apart any structure. In its own way, with enough time, water is the most destructive force known to man; yet our very existence depends upon it. The same is true of the environmental and social considerations influencing companies. By refusing to pay respect to these considerations, we set our plans up for failure, for destruction, for erosion. On the other hand, if our environment were static and never changing; if people were not diverse across a community, country or the world; how boring and mundane would our existence be? Environmental and social concerns play a big role at TarValon.Net.

Environmental Considerations

The City of Tar Valon is one of hundreds of websites devoted to The Wheel of Time. The effort to make it distinctive and to promote its growth is centered around establishing the most comprehensive resource site available on the World Wide Web as well as promoting and living the qualities of honesty, wisdom, service, and dedication exemplified by the Aes Sedai of the WOT world.

Social Considerations

Social considerations remain paramount at TarValon.Net. The Tower has attracted members from every continent around the world. It has attracted members from all walks of life. Maintaining a diverse community with representatives from various religious, political, and cultural boundaries; from teenagers to adult; from domestic caretakers to professionals is challenging and exciting.


If we were to fill a jar with water, we would be unable to add sand, gravel or big rocks to the container without making a mess. There is only one order that facilitates a nice clean process of successful planning. We must add the big rocks first (establish clear goals and focus), and then add the supporting gravel (the structure and strategy), then the sand (peoples' creativity and innovation) to bridge the gap of where we are and where we want to be, and finally, we can add the water (external considerations) which is necessary for vitality and opportunity. While there is no doubt that any planning process must begin with big rocks the other smaller rocks are just as important to the plan and its success. Overall Don MacRae's borrowed analogy was inspiring and with some deeper thought and clarification becomes a tool to aid the understanding of careful planning.


MacRae, D. (Sept 18, 2002). The foundation stones of leadership. Business Week Online. Retrieved April 26, 2003 from EBSCOhost.