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Cascading Leadership Series – Put an Edge on That Thing!

Posted by Kevin Nolan on February 29, 2024

A quick story: In the early light of the forest, two woodchoppers engaged in a friendly competition to see who could cut the most wood. With his robust frame, Tom attacked the woodpile relentlessly, his saw biting through log after log without a pause. Sweat glistened on his forehead in the effort.

A few feet away, Ben worked with a different tactic. Every hour, he paused, taking time to sharpen his saw meticulously (and drink a cold beer). 

As the sun dipped below the trees, they compared their work. Tired Tom’s pile was substantial, but to his surprise, Ben’s was huge! Now dull from constant use, Tom’s saw lay beside him, while Ben’s still gleamed sharply, ready for more—so was Ben! 

The guy with the sharper saw wins! I first read a version of this story in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It impacted how I approach training at Nolan Painting.

You gotta prioritize training your people if you want your mission, vision, and values to cascade throughout your company.

Training has to be daily—like brushing your teeth, jogging, or going to the gym. Keep your saw sharp!

Our training program makes us different from all the other painting contractors worldwide because it’s our training program. I hear other painting contractors complain that our trade association or supplier should develop training programs for our industry. I think, “Why would you let anybody else train your people in a way that didn’t exactly represent your brand?”

Our training program must be how we do things in our proprietary way. Our training keeps our people sharp, and we ‘sharpen our saw’ at Nolan Painting once a week by looking at and improving a component of our training program. 

Our training is broken down into two areas:

Learning Paths teach task-oriented skills like scraping, sanding, cutting a straight line, painting a door, and spraying a house. 

Leadership Competencies teach people skills, including emotional intelligence, public speaking, and managerial skills. 


We make all training accessible—visual, short, and online— and incentivize our people to shoot videos for the modules, which creates buy-in and a training culture. 

You gotta keep your saw sharp.

We dedicate time to review a different module every week at our operations meeting. For fifteen minutes, we break out into small groups according to teams. Each team reviews one competency or skill module and discusses whether it is up to date—relevant suggestions are made, and the module is updated.

It is hard to get this going, but just start! Remember, a good job today is better than a perfect job tomorrow. These regular training sessions allow your leadership to constantly cascade through your company without you doing much to force it. You can improve it later; you just have to set it in motion!

Next week—put an edge on it and build muscle!

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