General Leadership

An Oak is an Oak

True, caring leaders know an oak is an oak. Phillip Kane

August 29, 2014

I have no less than two dozen large, mature Oak trees on my property.  You know, the ones that reach 80 feet in height and twice that from leaf to leaf.  Well, with oak trees come, you guessed it, acorns.  Each year, most of the thousands of acorns that fall in my yard are either gathered up by squirrels (there’s a story about squirrels), or eaten by my dog Moses.  Those that aren’t are left to potentially germinate.

One popped up the week my daughter chick was born in 1997.  I decided to dig it up and pot it.  I took care to ensure that it had everything it needed to flourish – water, light, fertilizer.  As it outgrew a pot, I’d transplant it to a larger pot.  The tree moved with our family to Georgia, then back to Ohio. In 2010, when the tree was 13 years old, some 8 feet tall, and in a very large pot by then, we learned we were moving to Arkansas.  I decided it was time to put the tree in the ground.  We moved away and came back.  From time to time, I go check on the tree, which is now taller than two of me.  It’s 17 now.  Coincidentally, my daughter is 17 today also, which is why I thought of the tree.

That tree grew to be the mancentifical Oak tree that it is today because I nurtured it and cared for it and recognized it as an Oak.  I never bent over it as a seedling and muttered to it, “Hey little seedling, when you grow up you are going to be a breathtaking Redwood; you’re going to be so tall, and so big around that five men won’t be able to put their arms around you.”  Nope.  I told my little seedling that it was going to become a ginormous Oak, because it was growing from an acorn, and from acorns come oaks, not redwoods.  See, as leaders, we can’t change what people are, we can change what people do. 

And, that’s the point for the week.

People are like trees.  If as a leader, I’m given an acorn, there is no amount of nurturing that will ever amount to that little acorn becoming anything other than an Oak.  Period.  It won’t ever be a Maple, or a Redwood, or a Birch, or a Hickory.  It’s going to be an Oak.  And the kind of Oak and the height it reaches will depend on the stewardship it receives from me.

Despite every effort on my part, there is nothing I can do to change WHAT that Oak of mine is. But I can provide the best possible condition for the acorn to thrive and produce.  I can provide care to ensure that its needs are met.  I can help guard against that which threatens its growth.  And I can have an impact on what that Oak does.

When we reject our hard-wired inclination to try to “fix” what we think is wrong in others and concentrate more on creating the sort of environment they can thrive in and on providing them the nurturing and stewardship they require to achieve their maximum potential, they more often will – and we along with them.

Doing so requires little more than understanding their unique needs and responding appropriately.

People cannot be “fixed”.  They can be placed into situations where they enjoy a greater likelihood of success.  They canbe provided the counsel, learning, and development to enable them to reach their greatest potential by ensuring that they perfect the behaviors which will guarantee the greatest likelihood of their success.  They can be protected from internal and external factors which threaten their progress.

When they are, they and the teams they comprise will thrive, reaching levels of height and beauty that all the fixing in the world could never produce.

Nurture what they are.  Be a steward of what they do.

And win.

If you like the blog, you’ll love the book. To purchase a copy of Phillip’s book, The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership, from John Hunt Publishing, London, please follow this LINK. “Letters” is based on 85 story-backed lessons Phillip used while leading actual teams to accomplish extraordinary things. It is an outstanding resource for those who wish to commit to becoming the sort of leader that people WANT to follow.

To learn more about Phillip, please click HERE.