Leaders and board members are the salt and light of the organization, meaning they provide the growth resources needed for their mission and its people to survive and thrive. They also create, clarify, and communicate the vision associated with their mission. They see what is to come and share it with the enterprise while advocating for achieving goals.
Vision crafting is a beautiful yet somewhat daunting task. How does the leader envision the future? What is the best use of resources? How do they create the most good for the most people? The most important job of any leader is to select the right person for the right job. Everything begins and ends with this truth. Moreover, something uniquely tremendous happens when the leader has a well-hewn collective of integrators and executors in place. But how does leadership assemble this mighty forest?
I live nestled amid hundreds of acres of wooded paradise in the Allegheny Mountains of South-Central PA. This time of year, I hear the forest dweller’s spiccato of acorns tapping, trickling, and tumbling day and night down my roof lines. An acorn’s destiny is to become a tree. The acorn has the potential inside of it to become a mighty oak. However, before that happens, the acorn must be buried in the ground and cracked open. In essence, the acorn must die to itself so that it can fulfill a higher and more glorious purpose.
Nevertheless, of the thousands of acorns shed, only a few share the mantle of future tree for many reasons; eaten by animals, washed away, or crushed on the pavement. This evolution or extinction is a fact we all face repeatedly in life as well as in our organizations. Leaders help all their little "nuts'' examine whether they are up to living life to its fullest, and only the acorn itself can make that decision.
Leaders know that change is difficult, even more so when asking someone to alter their existing DNA to become the next best version of themselves. This metamorphosis entails an open mind that will consider, a tender heart that will follow, an accepting ear that will hear, and a willing spirit that will be infused. This is the reason we vet and select specific individuals for the privilege of leadership or sitting on a board. Because they know the seasons of life are a necessary part of ensuring the legacy and only certain acorns grow to be mighty oaks.
Leaders exist to proclaim what the organization can be and the growth potential inside its members. This unfolding entails teaching, inspiring, encouraging, as well as challenging, rebuking, and correcting. They want all the trees in their forest to develop a deep and robust root system, as evidenced by their cohorts' grounded character and convictions. Leaders need to cut down and remove those trees that get knocked out by a parasite (critical spirit) or an invasive (toxic co-workers) or blown over by extreme weather (acts of God).
Leadership, like a forest, is a living, breathing entity that is in a constant state of change. By continuously clarifying the vision, leaders enable every tree to grow to its full potential. The key is to be cleaning lenses and adjusting the line of sight constantly. I recently had an arborist clear 12 dead trees from locations near my house. The piece of equipment was known as the spider, and it was capable of going up 92 feet into the air. That is the leader's vantage point; to go above the treetops, beyond the canopy of what is, to see how much more space there is above.
I was permitted to hop in the bucket and take a ride to the top of this machine. Putting aside my fear of heights, I knew this aerial point of view would give me a refreshing perspective boost; and I was right. When you can’t see the forest through the trees, it’s time to get above the tree line and remember your place in the great big universe. There I was, 92 feet higher to Heaven than I was before, and able to look out across the fantastic green tapestry that I call home.
During my slow ride to the top, I observed all the different types and sizes of trees in my forest. They were as varied in size, grounding, and age, as the people in my life. Trees are fantastic teachers about life. How high does a tree grow? As high as it can. How wide does a tree grow? As wide as it can. How deep does a tree grow? As deep as it can. Trees will find a way to grow around any obstacles in their growth trajectory. Nothing stops trees. Their adaptive capacity is superlative.
What a remarkable example of how we are to live our lives. All people, just like the thousands of acorns raining down on my home, can become a mighty oak. They have everything within them to grow to heights that would dwarf anything they could imagine—if they aspire. Leaders help make the promise found in others a reality. We are all called to grow as deep, wide, and high as we can. The most outstanding leaders never let us forget or escape that truth.
When the lift could go no further, I gazed above the canopies and out across the horizon. I looked at the leaves all around me and thought about how fortunate they were to get this view 24 hours a day. Moreover, I was reminded, once again, there is a mighty oak waiting to grow endlessly within us all.
Our fullest potential requires a mind open to unknown possibilities. We must consider the wonders of life that we cannot fully understand—like the stupendous potential of an acorn. May we die to ourselves, unleash our true potential, and rise into a magnificent new way of being. After all, akin to an acorn, it is our destiny. So now, every time I hear the dancing pods over my head, I'm reminded that the best is yet to come and that there will be competition as to who will survive and find fertile ground. Of course, it will take time, productive soil, a little luck, nature’s nurturing, and significant ancestry. That is why they call them "Mighty Oaks!"
Dr. Tracey C. Jones is an author, podcaster, publisher, Air Force Veteran, and perpetual student of life. She is the author of 11 books, and her latest, Burnett or Bridgett: A Tale of Two Employees, helps leaders understand who on their team is a Whiney Piney and who is Oakey Dokey. Dr. Jones serves individuals by helping them discover their intrinsic greatness and works with organizations to ignite the fire between leaders and followers. Her websites are www.TremendousLeadership.com and www.TraceyCJones.com.