A few years ago I was on a bike ride with my oldest son Joshua, who was three years old at the time, riding through the roads in our neighborhood. While riding I stumbled upon a teaching moment when we ran over a bunch of acorns. I stopped the bike and the following conversation took place:
· (Me): Joshua, do you know what’s inside this acorn?
· (Joshua): No daddy, what is an acorn?
· (Me): This is a nut that fell off one of those trees.
· (Joshua): Ok. What’s inside it?
· (Me): There’s a whole forest inside this acorn. This one little seed can turn into a big forest if planted and taken care of. The same is true of us. Our one single life can be used to do big things in this world if we are properly planted and taken care of.
This happened again recently when my middle son asked me if I thought he had potential. The conversation looked something like this:
· (Jacob): Dad, do you think I have potential?
· (Me, after carefully considering how I needed to respond): Yes, I think you have tremendous potential but potential is only one element of greatness.
· (Jacob): What do you mean?
· (Me): Potential is only one part. You need to add hard work, disciplined action, positive attitude, grit, resilience and other elements to potential to achieve greatness. It’s kind of like an acorn.
· (Jacob): An acorn? What does that mean?
· (Me): Do you know what’s inside an acorn?
· (Jacob): Um, a seed?
· (Me): Correct, but if you look further you notice there is potential for forest in this acorn. If this acorn is placed in the right environment, with the right care, it can produce a tree that produces more acorns that multiplies itself into a forest of acorn trees. Potential is only part of the story.
To be transparent, I’m not sure they really understood a word I was saying. He was too young. However, it did remind me of the importance of vision and helping others see the possibilities of what could or should be in the future.
Max DePree, CEO Herman Miller Company, says “The first responsibility of a leader is to DEFINE REALITY.” One of the primary responsibilities of the leader is to inspire a shared vision, to help those under your care look beyond themselves and beyond their current reality to see a future state worth moving toward. It is easy for us to default to focusing on the little seed and not spend time looking at the forest that little seed could produce. If this becomes our focus it could become devastating for a team, organization or family. There is a Proverb that says, “Where there is no vision the people stumble all over themselves” (Proverbs 29:18)
I’m reminded of this principal each time I venture off to a corn maze with my family. there were a lot of fun things to do there like hayrides and shooting corn shucks at an old car, but the main attraction is walking through the corn maze. When you venture out into the corn maze, all you see while walking are corn stalks. They are all around you and can be over 10ft tall. If it weren’t for the paths carved out and a map in hand it would serve as a long afternoon for my family.
One of the most profound things to do, though, is to take a look at the aerial picture of the corn maze after walking through it. It’s amazing to see that even though all you saw were corn stalks, there is a greater design, a bigger picture. If you don’t take a step back and look at the bigger picture you could miss it and only be frustrated walking through a bunch of tall stalks of corn.
Here are some practical things to think through related to thinking about the bigger picture:
Start with your Purpose: Ask yourself the following questions: What does the scene of your life look like in 2 years, 5 years, 20 years? Where do you see your team in the next 2 years? 5 years? What is your vision of what the future could be? Spend time asking tough questions and thinking big about what could be in the future. Your preferred destination should define your direction. Start with the view of the entire corn maze and let that drive the actions you need to take to get to where you want to be.
Be intentional to plan time to think about the “big picture”: This is something you have to intentionally build into your schedule. The tyranny of the urgent will always steal from times like these, so you have to put it in your calendar. I make those under my leadership spend at least 10% of their overall time thinking about the macro things in our business.
Involve your team in vision creation and casting: If you want your team to buy-in, you need to create an environment for them to weigh-in. Creating vision in a silo will probably not gain the buy-in you are looking for. Engage your team to participate in creating your vision statements and leverage that coalition when you socializing the vision.
Write your vision down and go public: Don’t skip this step. Take time to write down your vision and then share it with someone. Your vision should be portable, repeatable and reinforced often.
You have to spend more of today thinking more about tomorrow if your future is going to be an improvement over the present.