Lead Like a Tree
Posted on 19 August 2018
I think that you shall never read a blog as lovely as a tree.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a love affair with trees, forests, gardens, and all things green. You can keep your beaches and oceans; give me the mountains and rolling hills. As a child in Sunday School class, I had trouble wrapping my head around why Adam and Eve weren’t perfectly content in the Garden of Eden and wanted more. I grew up literally hanging out in trees. In the house of my youth, we had a stunning, expansive Copper Beech with the perfect branch structure to provide a hammock to lounge in while daydreaming or reading. Today I live right off the Appalachian Trail with my pack of rescue pups and every time we hike I think to myself, “I do believe I could live right here, right now and all would be right with the world.”
Trees are a brilliant metaphor for life as well. They are rooted deeply, upward looking and provide shelter and nourishment for all creatures. They have a regenerative nature which allows them to move steadfastly through the seasons of life, always knowing transformation is just months away. They provide a quiet refuge in times of trouble from the storms and winds that threaten to topple us. Trees are also fruitful and reproductive. They blanket the earth with new seedlings which become the shade under which the future generations of humanity will sit.
As much as I adore trees, it's people we must interact and collaborate with to get things done. There are, however, many lessons we can learn from our foliaged friends. Here are six ways to preserve your organization as a diverse and rich habitat:
Threats: Watch for pests and invasive species. If we send physically sick co-workers home when they have the flu or a virus, why do we let people stay in our organization who display a toxic attitude or unwillingness to engage? In leadership literature, the term emotional contagion refers to the influence of our affective states, or emotions, on the workplace atmosphere. Attitudes are contagious; so make sure yours is worth catching. If you have stinkin’ thinkin’ happening, make sure you quarantine it before it blights your productivity. Never forget, there’s no such thing as a company problem without a first and last name.
Seasons: To everything, there is a season. There will be times of growth, times of drought, times of fruitfulness, and times of barrenness. It's called the Seasons of Life and we, as humans, go through the same psychological processes. Talk to anyone who was in love with their job and six months later, ready to quit. The important part is to realize it’s okay to want to quit; just don't do it. The forest isn’t always greener on the other side of the mountain. No job is always a walk in the park. If you are in the valley, you are bound to hit the lowest point and begin the upward trek. In leadership literature, it’s called a regenerative nature and it is the key to leading a fruitful life. This self-righting feature ensures that when we fall down, we get right back up.
Pruning: Pruning is a necessity. From time to time, we must review our programs and personnel and take a keen, objective look at what is working, what needs revamping, and what needs canceling. As with all renewal, you must cut away the dead, diseased, and dying to prepare for explosive growth. Often a crisis or downturn is an opportunity to lop off the areas that are not fruitful or producing the desired results. Skip this step, and you will waste your most precious resources and strangle out the right ideas and people. Remember, hurtful is not the same thing as harmful. Short-term pain is often a requirement for long-term gain.
Rotation: Just like crops, people need to be rotated too. Be sure and rotate your team members so you do not create a fallow fellow. Job rotation allows resources to refresh. It gives your team members a fresh perspective and hinders the development of biases, assumptions, and blind spots. It also ensures a deeper breadth within your organization and prevents burnout. After you reap, you must rest. This is why we have term limits and Sabbaticals. None of us can stay fruitful without going back to the well. We all must recharge, and job rotation is a great way to stay fresh and creative. It also allows new life to come into the organization.
Growth: The need to be grown. The highest goal any of us can have in life is to be developed. Make sure everyone on your team wants to learn, unlearn, and relearn. This shows humility and teachability, two of the most exceptional leadership traits. Find out what members are capable of and then nurture them in their intentions. Plant them in the right soil and provide the required nutrients. Some will need an intellectual challenge, some will need relational team projects, and some will need to be task oriented by focusing on solving problems. Each employee is unique. Take the time to find out what they need to become more engaged in your mission.
Inspire: Look skyward for inspiration. The need for encouragement is a fundamental one. Growing up, I remember being told to talk to my plants. In a study performed by the Royal Horticultural Society, researchers discovered that talking to your plants really can help them grow faster. People are the exact same way. Be the ray of sunshine that speaks life into your followers. Also, if speaking is not your thing, send them a handwritten note, or email. Your people are not mind readers. Be sure and over communicate and constantly drip out information as well as inspiration. Remember, people don't care what you know, until they know you care.
As leaders, we wear many hats. We are optimists, encouragers, ethicists, decision-makers, saviors, and sense-makers. So just like the mighty forests, we must do the same for ourselves and our organization. We need to be intentional about who we allow in our forest. After all, you cannot get it right without the right people. We need to stay nourished as well because leading others, although incredibly uplifting, can also be unbelievably draining. We must deal with bureaucracies, laws, budgets, attitudes, and global issues. To stay above the fray, we need to make sure our roots go deep; so deep that when the winds of change or fires of crisis come into our forest, we can not only survive, but thrive.
Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You’ll be the same person five years from now that you are today except for two things; the people you meet and the books you read.” Want to build a better organization? Fill those seats with tremendous people and read tremendous books together. It won’t take long before you begin to feel and see the effects of clean living on your environment. Put only the purest of things in your mind because there’s enough dirt and filth in this world to choke us all. Remember, the stronger you are, the stronger your people will be, and you will see a tremendous forest through the trees!