What I Learned About Leadership From A Pile of Rocks

What I Learned About Leadership From A Pile of Rocks

I want to tell you what I learned about leadership from a pile of rocks. I want to suggest that one of the most important roles of a leader is to help people see why their rock matters.

As many of you know, this summer I walked the Camino de Santiago for the second time. This six- hundred mile trek across the North of Spain has been walked for over 1,200 years. Originally an exclusively Christian pilgrimage, it is now walked by many others for different personal reasons.

At one of the highest points on the Camino there is a place called the Cruz de Ferro (pictured here) where a tall iron cross sits on a tiny mound. Tradition has it that pilgrims bring a rock from home to symbolize their journey. When I arrived for the first time, I was struck by the thousands of rocks that have piled up over the centuries.

Now there are one of two reactions you can have when you arrive. The first is to be aware of how insignificant your rock is. After all, yours is just one of SO many rocks-: What does it matter to throw one more on the pile? The opposite reaction is to be aware that your rock is part of a journey humans have been taking for a millennium. Your rock connects you to everyone who has walked before and everyone who will come after.

What Does This Have To Do With Leadership?

It occurs to me that leadership is all about helping people see that their “rock” matters. Our job is to connect the work our team members do and the work our organization does, to the larger conversation. The work we do is only a small part of our customers’ lives, but by doing that work we are helping them live their best life. Our company may be involved in doing good work in the community or trying to create a more sustainable planet, and that work may seem small. Alone, our company cannot solve these challenges, but if leaders help people see that “our rock” is part of a much larger effort, we together will collectively shape the future.

This is even true in our work as people leaders. We may be only one of many who help mentor team members, provide them valuable feedback, help them connect to a network for their career- but by putting our “rock” on the pile, we will help them build a great career. Each generation also adds our “rock” and if we are wise, we join all the humans before us who have tried to build a better world. Those who come after us will also add their rocks to the pile.

This week I spoke to an organization that is trying to take their purpose to new levels by focusing on new efforts to improve the health of communities. They are doing their part to achieve the sustainable development goals set for the world. In my keynote to their 200 leaders, I shared my pilgrimage story. I encouraged them to see how important their rock was: How their company is part of a sustainable future, a part of creating healthier lives for communities, how small rocks add up to building mountains, how even small efforts to improve the organization’s processes create more margin for their mission, how they as leaders could “pile” on in a positive way to shape the lives of team members.

So please, take your rock and add it to the pile. It may seem small, but your rock matters more than you think.


Dr. John Izzo has spoken to over one million people, advised over 500 companies, authored nine best-selling books, and helped some of the world's most admired companies. He has been a pioneer in creating successful businesses and emerging work trends for over twenty-five years.

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