An Acorn, Corn Maze and Leadership

A couple of 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): 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.

To be honest, he didn’t get a word I was saying. He was too young. But it did remind me of the importance of vision and helping others see the possibilities of what could happen in a future state.

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 towards. It is easy for us to default to focusing on the little seed and not spend time looking at the forest that little see 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)

Last fall our family visited Uncle Shucks Corn Maze in Dawsonville, GA. There were a lot of fun things to do there like hayrides and shooting corn shucks at an old car, but the main attraction was walking through the corn maze. All you saw while walking through the maze were corn stalks. They were all over 10ft tall and if it weren’t for the paths carved out and a map in hand it would have been a long afternoon for our 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 would miss all this.

Here are some practical things to think through related to thinking about the bigger picture:

Ask yourself the following questions: Where do you want to see yourself or team in the next 2 years? 5 years? What is your vision of what the future state could be? Spend time asking tough questions and thinking big about what could be in the future.

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: 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.