Understanding the 4 Cornerstones of a Great Business

Create a strong foundation for success with a balanced focus and these cornerstones:


bulding blocks cornerstone business

Throughout the world, majestic structures stand as legacies to history’s greatest empires and civilizations. The castles of medieval Europe, the aqueducts of the Roman Empire, the temples of ancient Greece, the Great Wall of China, the pyramids of ancient Egypt—these structures still awe and inspire wonder centuries after they were constructed. Though they are found all over the world and include cathedrals, bridges, opera houses and towers, they all have one element in common.

All of the world’s greatest structures rest on a solid foundation. And the integrity of every foundation depends on its four cornerstones.

The four cornerstones

Early cornerstones were chiseled one hammer swing at a time. Nobody really knows the origins of the term “fair and square,” but it most likely comes from the construction of cornerstones. “Fair” refers to rock—that it is free of cracks. “Square” means that the stone is perfectly cut and that the corners are at right angles. It is hard work to make a cornerstone, which then sits underground largely unnoticed. But laying a solid foundation ensures that what is built will last. It is hard work, but it is worth it.

Great businesses, like buildings, must have a solid foundation. And the foundation of a great business is only as strong as its four cornerstones. Often businesses are thought of as single entities that must do one thing well to succeed. Just as a building with one cornerstone would collapse, a business cannot succeed with only one cornerstone, no matter how strong. There must be four elements in a business’ foundation. The four cornerstones of a business can be summed up as Me We Do Be.

The Me cornerstone

When you are building the Me cornerstone, you are building knowledge and wisdom. You focus on your thoughts, feelings and attitudes. Building the Me cornerstone of a business means that you don’t just conduct business day to day and react to whatever comes up, but that you listen, learn and carefully choose your direction. You should spend time in deep thought to develop intellectually, spiritually and philosophically. It’s important to take time to turn off all the noise, knowing that great insights already reside inside of you, if only you take the time to listen.

For a business, this could mean taking some quiet time at the start of every day to reflect on the mission of the company and to plan for the day. Common signs of a weak Me cornerstone in a business include an arrogant, know-it-all attitude; a confused company mission; and a widespread sense of spiritual poverty. The signs that a business has a strong Me cornerstone are that everybody in the company is continually learning, people know why they are doing the work they are doing and they see their work as service to a greater cause.

The We cornerstone

When you are building relationships, you are working on the We cornerstone. Here you connect with the right people and build your circle of success. Within this cornerstone we develop culturally, sociologically and influentially. You build social capital and avoid toxic people. You recognize that the most important force on the earth is kindness.

This means showing appreciation to staff, vendors and customers who make the business run. A weak We cornerstone shows up as poor morale, a breakdown in communication and widespread conformity. In a business with a strong We cornerstone, there is an energetic and elevated spirit, a creative and expressive team, and everybody knows and embraces their unique style.

The Do cornerstone

You are building the Do cornerstone when you build productivity. The Do cornerstone includes the physical, financial and environmental aspects of a business. The Do cornerstone means adding value to the company, customers and clients, and producing quality products and services. It also means staying healthy, keeping to the budget and maintaining a pleasant office space. A weak Do cornerstone shows up as bad health, debt and clutter. Signs of a strong Do cornerstone are that you are in shape, adding value and keeping your spaces clean, tidy and pleasant.

The Be cornerstone

The Be cornerstone is where you build the future of your business. This is where you develop and set goals, manage your time, and document your achievements. Ultimately, with this cornerstone, you contribute to building something bigger than yourself and your day-to-day work. This is where you break out of your comfort zone, set goals and create something timeless. A weak Be cornerstone shows up as aimless wandering; poor execution; and shortsighted, selfish decisions. Signs of a strong Be cornerstone include clearly stated goals, executing goals and a strong sense of history.

Finding balance

Cutting corners always has been disastrous. History books are full of examples of buildings, people, businesses and governments that ignored one or more of these cornerstones. The initial result is a feeling of something just not being right in the company culture. The result often is collapse.

Many people tend to get stuck in the Me cornerstone. They never go beyond their own thoughts and feelings. Professional organizations often get stuck in the We cornerstone and become social gatherings that do not build wisdom, produce anything or contribute to anything greater than their own survival and funding. Many government institutions get stuck in the Be cornerstone and accomplish little besides attempting to preserve their own legacy.

Many businesses tend to get stuck in the Do cornerstone. They mistake busyness for business and focus on productivity at the expense of wisdom, connection and legacy. This may work in the short term, but, in the long run, it is a recipe for failure. For success in the long run, all four cornerstones must be solidly in place.

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