Last week marked the 100th anniversary of our country’s National Park Service. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to conserve our natural treasures for the enjoyment of countless generations to come, and named the National Park Service as caretakers of this important mission. Caretakers . . . taking care . . . isn’t that what all of us who are leaders should be doing for our organizations?
Sure, maybe you aren’t charged with protecting the majestic beauty of Glacier National Park, or maintaining the wildlife in Yellowstone, or honoring the fallen at Little Big Horn, but I’m guessing your organization has a fairly lofty mission all the same. And like the National Park Service, if you are truly serving as a caretaker for your organization, you shouldn’t make decisions for this quarter, or even this fiscal year. You should be making decisions that will keep your organization on solid footing for generations to come.
How? By taking care. Of your people, your resources, the legacy of those who came before you. Taking care often isn’t expedient. It doesn’t always respond to the latest fads. It keeps its feet firmly planted on your organizational mission, while also looking around two corners to prepare for the future. Taking care is about the long view, and in our instant everything culture, that can be very hard.
The other thing to note about care-taking is that it’s not about you. It is about something much bigger. Your organization’s mission, its legacy. Too many people today have a romanticized view of leadership as meaning you are in the spotlight or the center of attention. When a leader serves as a caretaker, however, the focus is on taking care, which means standing back and letting the mission take center stage.
Taking care is quiet leadership. Which should not be confused with weak or uncertain leadership. It is about studying the chessboard of your organization, and setting up the pieces today so they will be where they need to be three moves into the future. It is making the hard decisions because that’s what is in the best long term interests of the organization — even when it causes you or others pain in the short term.
In my experience, caretaker leaders are driven from the inside, rather than motivated by external rewards. Sure, external validation is nice, but it is the inside stuff that keeps them up at night, and gives them the most satisfaction at the end of the day. Caretakers are the ones who want their organizations to be around for the next 100 years and beyond.
And it all starts with taking care.