What can we learn about leadership from a fruit tree?
I’m often engaged in helping companies figure out why their organizations don’t function as efficiently as the C-suite officers think they should. It’s always interesting to sit down with them after doing an assessment of the staff, including their own actions and those of their personal staff. A few days ago, a discovered a natural analogy that might help some of you understand some of the dysfunction in your company. It might not be comfortable, but I’ve found it fits many of the situations I run into in my assessment of multilevel organizations.
Trees get their strength from their trunks
First, we must remember the girth and health of the trunk says a lot about the strength of a tree. When living on Staff Post Road in my last assignment, we had more than a half-dozen hundred year old pecan trees in our yard. Massive things that stood strong in every storm. I liken those trees to the leaders of an organization, the CEOs, the senior vice presidents, the people with heavy decision-making responsibilities. When the senior leaders live healthy, balanced lives across the five areas of physical, family, spiritual, emotional, and social dimensions, they can give strong leadership to their companies.
They must also learn to exercise good leadership skills, however. And of extreme importance is the need to provide a clear vision and mission for those who work for them. As leaders, however, their focus must also include ensuring everyone organizationally below them get access to the resources they need to accomplish the tasks assigned them. The leader serves his employees in this way to ensure the organization’s success.
Fruit only appears at the blossoms, beyond the ends of the branches
Second, we need reminded in a multilevel organization that the final production only happens at the end of the line. CEOs, commanders, senior vice presidents, the C-suite folks seldom do any actual manufacturing. They seldom deal with customers directly. They seldom do any assembly or take care of personal sales in multilevel companies. Their principle job centers around providing resources, setting strategic vision, and keeping their organization focused on that desired outcome.
When we think about the fruit tree analogy, the fruit comes as the result of those leaves and blossoms coming out at the right time and drawing resources through the trunk and branches. The leaves can’t provide their own resources. They must draw upon the capillaries running through the trunk and out through the branches. But no fruit appears on the trunk or the branches, only on the stems surrounded by leaves and blossoms. No buds, leaves, blossoms – no fruit. That’s an important principle to remember. The trunk by itself cannot produce fruit. Neither can the branches. Only by working together can fruit come into being.
Branches link the trunk to the fruit, but also create problems
Now consider the branches. As mentioned above, the branches connect the trunk and the water and nutrients it carries to the mechanisms that will produce fruit. But when you look at the branches of almost any tree, you’ll find a lot of confusion, they intertwine and get entangled with each other. That’s not unlike many staff sections in multilevel companies. Each vying for position, trying to determine which section provide more to the company than another. In case of a drawdown, who gets pink slips first?
Staffs forget their sole responsibility within the company provides resources and support to the lower levels of the organization to ensure they can get their jobs done. Too often, upper level staff members assume the roles of the seniors they work for instead of the staff role they occupy. By that I mean, the CEO gives the vision and direction to guide a company toward a particular outcome. Everyone below him should be working to enable the lowest tier of workers to accomplish that vision. Instead, a vice president will direct and change the picture, expect certain perks and pleasures forgetting that the people at the lowest level are producing the outcomes, not the people at the top.
The staffs are important. They are skilled at marshaling resources, using people’s skills and talents collectively to get things done effectively and efficiently, but without those lowest level employees, the CEOs and managers and commanders and staff members would just sit in empty offices with banker and investors breathing down their necks asking for their returns.
Back to the tree analogy, every part is important. No fruit comes with the absence of any part, trunk, branches, or leaves and blossoms. But all of us must also remember in every working orchard, a pair of pruning shears stands sharp and ready all the time. The best orchards produce the most productive crops by continually and consistently growing and pruning branches! Those of us who spend our lives clambering for senior staff positions should take note. Pruning is a necessary, healthy part of any companies life. If a branch doesn’t produce fruit, it soon disappears from the tree. We cannot expect to hang on if we’re not producing.