Rooted Against the Wind

Old branchy evergreen beech forest.It’s Spring in the Midwest, which means the winds have been howling. As I look at the trees in my back yard, I am glad they have roots that run deep to withstand the gusts, which seem to come from every direction. A lot of organizations could learn a thing or two from those thriving old maples. I see far too many organizations that only root their programs . . . their focus . . . their energy, about an inch deep — planting a little bit here, a little bit there, based on the way the wind is blowing today. The problem with that philosophy? The wind changes direction on a fairly regular basis and so these organizations are always scrambling to adapt.

Perhaps a better plan is to scout out a location . . . a philosophy . . . an approach that you believe in enough to stick with for the long haul, regardless of which way the wind blows, and then take the time to develop a root system that can weather the inevitable storms. Unfortunately many leaders, with the best of intentions, jump on board an “industry trend,” provide introductory level training to a wide cross-section of staff, and then wonder why they are not seeing dramatic change within 60 days. Oh, and they are also “planting” three other best practice approaches, just to hedge their bets.

It may feel like that is the “safer” approach, like you are responding to the changing winds. What you are really doing, however, is confusing and wearing out your people. As a leader, you need to look past next weeks’ weather forecast . . . past the next quarter, the next year . . . and ask yourself, who are you as an organization? What are you really about, specifically? Focus your energy and resources there. How?

When you are building for the long term, start small. Identify a core group of individuals and immerse them in your area of focus. Allow them to explore, to ask questions, adjust and start again. All the while, they will be developing a root system that grows stronger each day because of their targeted focus. Why do this rather than take everyone down the path at the same time? A small group can experiment, adapt and respond with a nimbleness that an entire organization cannot. Also, when everyone has questions and there is no clear answer, people get nervous and start to pull back, reverting to what they know. There’s a reason most trees spend the first year setting out roots before there is visible growth — that’s what allows them to thrive for the long term.

Your organization can thrive, too. Find your spot, support a small group of people as they build a deep network of supportive anchors, and then grow from there . . . with the confidence that your organization will be rooted against the wind.

The Seventh Day

Woman Resting In Hammock

“ . . . on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” — Genesis, 2:2.

In case any of you over-achiever types need a reminder, God rested on the seventh day. And He’s God! We . . . are not. How many days has it been since you rested?

Leaving work only to start on your 47-item to-do list at home does not count. Laundry, grocery shopping, changing the oil in the car, running the kids . . . these things are not resting. They may be a necessary part of your life, but resting they are not. Granted, resting looks different for different people. For some, it is settling in with a good book. For others rest and renewal comes from a walk through the woods, an afternoon spent with family and friends, losing yourself in a hobby, time spent in reflection, or actually taking a nap!

In her book Thrive Arianna Huffington noted that what we highlight in someone’s eulogy is very different than what we as a society define as success. It’s no wonder that burnout is reaching epic proportions. Too many people are giving up those things that are most meaningful, restful and renewing to them, to reach higher and work harder on the road to some modern version of success. Maybe the best antidote to burnout is a seventh day.

In actuality, a “seventh day” doesn’t have to be a whole day . . . and you certainly don’t have to wait a week to benefit from it! A ten-minute walk outside can do wonders for your sense of energy and peace of mind. Close your eyes and savor a piece of dark chocolate. Stop to enjoy a sunset. Turn off the computer, the phone, the TV and take a few moments to connect . . . to rest.

Don’t think you have time? (After all, a leader’s work is never done, right?) Let’s take a moment to consider the return on investment for a seventh day. Better decisions, more creativity, increased patience, and the simple fact that you get to enjoy life more . . . hmmm . . . seems like a worthwhile investment to me! Yes, I know, when you are in the midst of the tempest it is sometimes difficult a) to recognize how much you need a seventh day, and b) to find a way to work it into the rush and whirl of your life. But hey, you’re a leader . . . you can figure this one out!

As Ms. Huffington notes, maybe a first step is to start each day by asking yourself not what you have to do that day, but rather what kind of life do you want to live. Sort of shakes up the priorities a bit, huh? And I’d be willing to bet, in the life you want to live, you’ll find the time for a seventh day.