Trees and Teamwork

Leadership lessons are all around for those who know how to look for them. I've observed some powerful motives for leading through teams from the trees around me.

A few winters ago, parts of the southeastern United States, including Atlanta where I now live, endured a much tougher than usual winter. Following a wet, six-inch snowfall, pine trees made a great parable of the need for teamwork.

Along the roads I noticed that where tall, young pine trees grew in large stands, even though the branches were bowed with the heavy snow, the trunks and branches were able to lean against one another, thus providing support. When the snow melted, those trees that had support sprang back into their usual vertical position. But where that same species of tree stood alone, the snow's burden had a much different effect. Branches bent until they snapped. Occasionally, the trunk even split in two. Otherwise healthy, young trees lay broken on the snow.

On the West coast, where I previously lived, a different type of tree provided another dramatic parable. The giant redwoods only achieve their great size in forests of redwoods. The root systems of these mammoth trees are relatively shallow. Planted alone, they will inevitably topple in high winds. But in redwood forests, their roots become entangled and bound together below the earth's surface. Each tree is tethered by all its neighbors, and together they can withstand hurricane force winds.

Leaders who go it alone will fail alone. Collaborative leadership takes more effort, but it yields greater results. Collaborative leadership takes more time, but it provides a greater probability of success. The adage, "None of us is as smart as all of us" becomes evident when your failure is a direct result of failing to enlist the input of people on your team.

1. Plan together.

This allows you to share the victory with your team, and allows your team to share with you in the face of defeat.

2. Prepare together.

Getting input from your team members not only improves your chances of winning, it also prepares others for leadership roles. When leaders and potential leaders work together, they learn from each other new ways of processing information and planning strategically.

3. Celebrate together.

Never pass up an excuse to throw a party. One of the most common flaws I see in leaders across the country is when they reach a significant milestone, they immediately set their sights on another without stopping long enough to celebrate the victory they've just won. Do it! Not for you, but for everyone else who gave so much to make the win a reality. And if you lose one once in a while, celebrate the fact that it could have been worse!

4. Debrief together.

After each win or loss, schedule a brief meeting to find out from each participant what went well - and what could have gone better. You'll see the situation from multiple viewpoints, and you'll also see first-hand who on your team is growing in their ability to handle success and defeat.

When you apply the lesson of the trees, you'll emerge from the storms of life intact!

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at