Grow Wide/Grow Together: Leadership Lessons from the Redwoods

Matt ColemanThe CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment

Here in Central California, we are known for our beautiful coast lines, great surf, fine wines, and gigantic redwoods. I am in constant awe and wonder of the beauty and strength of these spectacular trees. Every time we pass these towers, I exclaim to my daughters how amazing they are, to which they respond with the proverbial eye roll as in “here he goes again.” But truly, there are so many lessons we can learn from these great trees.

Redwoods thrive in groves. Their sociability has to do with their roots. Though 250-300’ tall and about 30’ in diameter, the roots of sierra redwoods aren’t particularly deep: they extend only 6-8’ below ground. Though relatively shallow, the root systems stretch wide, extending 100-150’ feet from the trunk, interweaving with the root systems of other redwoods in the same grove.

Even more fascinating is that these redwoods talk to each other through their roots. Yes, you heard me correctly: they talk to each other, holding each other up and giving each member of the grove stability, support, and whatever they need to survive. If a particular tree in the grove is weak, it can draw nutrients from the others to not only survive but thrive well enough to later do the same for other trees in the grove. Each tree is uniquely different from each other, but it thrives by communicating what it needs in and listening to the needs of others.

Here is redwood wisdom for leaders: Communication and connection is vital for growth and survival. Both actions are based in relationship.

Communicate when we are in need. When we face challenges and negative experiences, we often pull back, isolate ourselves, and try to go it alone. But we must realize that in our toughest moments, what gives us the ability for greatest growth is to let go of our ego and let others know what we need in that moment. Do you have those people in your life with whom you can share your fears, frustrations, or shortcomings with the expectation of honest constructive feedback? If you don’t have such people in your life, you should look for them. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Connect to those who are in need. When things are going well for us, we have a habit of putting our head down and moving forward with blinders on, worrying only about our forward progress. But if we are truly connected to our colleagues and care about the growth of the team, we will look up and around to see how everyone is doing. We will ask, “How can we support the growth and survival of not only ourselves but the entire organization?” We may worry that this peripheral vision may slow our own momentum, but in reality, we can facilitate even greater momentum by making our colleagues stronger.

The writer of Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate each other to acts of love and good works.” One of our roles as Christian educators is to encourage and support each other, a role that requires an attentiveness and awareness of the needs of others. Understanding these needs often requires asking tough questions. If you see someone struggling, hurting, or not performing as they normally would, check in and ask not only how they are doing but what you can do to help.

Remember from the redwood that the passing of nutrition can go one direction at one time, and another direction later. What trees (and staff members) need at a given time is not always the same. But when there is a give and take of mutual support, over time you will see the grove forming strong bonds as their roots intertwine, with trees growing stronger than they ever would on their own.

Like every other living thing, redwoods have a life cycle, but it is a long one: it can take hundreds of years for such a tree to decompose after it falls. The beauty of a fallen redwood is that it keeps giving life to the grove years after it is gone. Think about where you are currently planted. Are you leading in such a way to make your school a better place long after you are gone? What are you laying down that will make those who follow you continue to thrive?

As we step into this new year, may our professional relationships mimic the roots of a redwood. For us to survive and thrive, we must be connected with a grove of fellow Christian educators who both accept and offer help for the flourishing of all.

Grow wide/Grow together in 2021.

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