There is much one could learn from a tree in the forest. The extent of the possibilities depends on relationship, and relationship depends on conversation, and conversation begins with being inquisitive, open
and receptive. The leader who recognizes and manifests those qualities will spend lots of time looking, listening and fully sensing into the surrounding environment, including all its living beings. Trees are clear mirrors for inquisitive leaders. Here are a few things I have noticed. I’m sure there much that has escaped my notice, so far.
What else are you seeing?
One essential quality of leadership is integrity, which we might think of as having high moral standards and living in accord with those values, even when it is difficult to do so. Additional meaning can be found in the word “integrated”, which has the same root. To have integrity is to be fully integrated in the ecological, cultural and economic fabric of one’s reality --- to be connected, and to be a connector/integrator, between vision and practicality, heaven and earth. To manifest integrity, a leader must be fully connected, fully integrated with her world.
In nature, integrity is exemplified by the tree, which is fully integrated, through its roots, limbs, twigs and leaves, with the environment in which it lives. It is interconnected with the weather and every other being of the forest. Interconnected means that it affects, and is affected by, the elements and the living beings with whom it co-habits. In its physical form --- roots in the earth and crown in the sky --- it is a connector of heaven and earth. Earth is the source of stability, reliability, and nutrient; from heaven come light, heat, energy, water and wind. If heaven and earth are not joined, the tree has no life; in the same way, the leader has no authenticity and hence no support. On the other hand, when heaven and earth are joined, productivity, health and wealth are the result.
The posture of the tree represents dignity, a somewhat old-fashioned, but still important quality of leadership. It has to do with charisma, which, in its most positive sense, is the quality of magnetizing people
and ideas and catalyzing the artful arrangement of the puzzle pieces for the benefit of everyone.
Dignity is the inseparability of stability and flexibility. Immovable, yet always moving, the tree is solidly rooted in the earth and, at the same time, swaying gently in the breeze. When the wind blows, the leaves flutter, the branches bend and the whole trunk of the tree moves ever so subtly. A dignified leader is firmly grounded in purpose and values and, at the same time appreciates all manner of feedback from colleagues, employees, customers and the prevailing economic climate. While firmly rooted in his own worthiness, his perspective is subject to change depending on the configuration of elemental and human forces.
The tree, in each stage of its life and death, is just a tree. There is no contrivance, no pretending to be bigger or prettier than it is. Its seeds are ripe in the Fall, and they sprout in the Spring. Everything happens in its proper time, perfectly in accord with the seasons. It is that way with a genuine leader, who is what she is, does what she says. The truth is undeniably on time. A tree can be trusted by every other being of the forest; genuine leaders trust themselves and are trusted by others.
We could say that a tree produces biological material, which to a natural system is wealth. Actually, the tree is merely in the right place at the right time for wealth to be created. Although it is an engaged participant, the tree is not the producer of wealth. As the sun’s rays fall on its green leaves, wealth is created through photosynthesis. Productivity is simply the transformation of solar energy into biological material. The tree is merely the host, never the hero. The tree is never in a hurry; wealth is created in its own time, in concert with the light, heat and water from the sky and the nutrient and solidity of the earth.
And so it is with “wealth-creating” leaders. They host the process, knowing that they are an essential part, interdependent with many other essential leaders, each leading from their own place in the enterprise. Altogether wealth appears when the causes and conditions are favourable. The tree is a perfect mirror for a wise and patient leader, who must discern, in accord with the seasons, what is useful and what is not.
There comes a time in the life of a tree, when it “dies”. Of course, since we know there is more life in a “dead” tree than in a “live” one, dying is really more like retiring, transitioning from one emphasis (producing wealth) to the next one, which is letting go of what has been accumulated.
Being available is one of the most powerfully beneficial attributes of a leader. Complete relaxation — there is nothing uptight about a rotting log — is a mark of letting go. It is beyond generosity, where there is still some sense of the one who is generous. In this case, it is merely laying out the accumulated wealth for anyone to feed on, or hide in, or build into something else. Equanimity, in this case, is being completely available, aside from any discernment as to who needs it and who doesn’t. Any lingering sense of the one who is offering wealth gradually dissolves into the ground of richness from which new life will emerge.
As Chogyam Trungpa, the great meditation master has said, ""The point is not to want to benefit anyone or make them happy. There is no audience involved, no 'me' and 'them.' It is a matter of an open gift, complete generosity without the relative notions of giving and receiving. That is the basic openness of compassion: opening without demand. Simply be what you are, be the master of the situation. If you will just 'be' then life flows around and through you."