Even today, field work in geology involves a certain amount of old fashioned brawn. It was more so twenty years ago.

Back then, I was an applied math student and, by all accounts, I was expected to spend my summer months writing computer programs in a research lab.

Instead, I spent three summers prospecting and doing geological surveying in the middle of the Siberian (far!) nowhere (even farther!). I cannot tell you how fondly I remember that time in tight-knit groups against the backdrop of the vast and unforgiving, yet breathtakingly beautiful, wilderness.

One of the most physically demanding jobs in geological surveying is trenching. Rock formations are often covered by a thick layer of sediment and to be “read” and categorized, they need to be exposed. A shovel, a pick-axe and a pair of human hands do the job nicely.

Trenchers came in two distinct kinds, with virtually no exception. The first kind were tall, gregarious and rosy-cheeked youths who took a summer gig to make a ton of dough (such was the theory). The second group was comprised of light but wiry men in their late forties and fifties, with graying hair, weathered faces and usually some criminal past.

The two groups approached their work differently. Having nourished themselves with a substantial breakfast, the young giants would start swinging the pick-axe and shoveling the debris at a rate that would put an open-pit excavator to shame. The dirt would fly everywhere for a couple of hours, but too soon, smoke breaks would become more and more frequent, and the work slower and sloppier.

A geologist would be called at some point to inspect the results, only to find that either the trench wasn’t placed properly or its walls weren’t sufficiently straight. One could frequently hear sighs and swearing at the prospect of rework, blistered hands and aching backs.

Some left after a week, many – before the end of the season, and virtually none came back for another tour.

The light wiry men would start the day with a mug of strong black tea and some very light breakfast (no, not a bowl a fruit; a toast, perhaps). They would ready their tools, which they all had adapted and modified to their liking. They would work slowly but steadily, hour after hour, laying immaculate trenches with straight, parallel walls. It was perfection. These people never had blisters, never complained and never bailed. They were invited back, year after year, these slender sinewy men with mottled past.

In organizations, initiatives are often approached with the misguided zeal of the first group. When difficulties transpire, the steam starts to thin until it is exhausted altogether. Since there is rarely anyone to order rework, the initiative is quickly abandoned. This is why silver bullet solutions are so commonly desired: their promise of a quick and “guaranteed” success is incredibly alluring.

But the leaders who succeed consistently are those who have the determination of the light sinewy trenchers, those who can doggedly execute despite setbacks, uncertainty and prospects of hard work. They prepare, equip themselves with the right tools and get going steadily, until all that’s left is to look at the results.

Now, where did I leave that pick-axe?