Sometimes we can learn a lot by just looking at the things around us. Sometimes we think we know what we need to know and why bother with just a little bit more information. But sometimes a little bit more information can make a big difference.

The difference between 211 degrees and 212 degrees is the difference between hot water and steam. Hot water can cook potatoes but steam can move a train, power a ship, and produce electricity for a whole city. Just a little difference, one degree, makes a big difference.

Looking Around:

A lot of what we need to know is available to us by just looking around. My grandpa told me it was harder to knock down one tree standing alone than twenty tall trees standing together. That seemed kind of dumb but he wasn’t talking about trees, he was talking about me growing up to become successful.

He said a tree that stands alone is able to get sun from all sides. This means it can grow all the time. It puts out broader branches in all directions to take advantage of the sun. The roots grow deep and spread out to capture the moisture from the drip line of the leaves.

Trees that grow in the forest compete for the light and moisture. Their trunks are tall and thin as they reach up for the sun’s rays. Their roots compete with the other trees for moisture. The roots do not and cannot spread because of the dense roots from the nearby trees.

Like the trees, our strength will come from either our foundation or our associations. Our growth will be a function of how much knowledge we can attain and process. A strong foundation will maintain our presence and permits us to seek and process the information around us.

Strength and Growth:

The solitary tree gets its strength from broad roots (foundation) and its growth from continued nourishment from the soil and sun. (Knowledge/learning). Because the tree stands alone, it must deal with all the challenges of nature. The winds try to tip it over so it spreads its roots. The sun and rain cause more branches and leaves to sprout so the trunk thickens to hold the weight. When it’s about to crack, it bends, and then gets stronger. It supports the nesting and resting birds and provides shade and shelter for the cows and deer. It also provides seeds, nuts and fruit for you and me. One tree, standing alone, does it all…a leader among trees.

The trees in the forest get their strength from each other (association). Because they stand together, the force of the wind is distributed among them. Did you ever notice that when a strong wind attacks the forest, the trees along the edges will fall? It is because they have a small root distribution. Their roots are limited due to the competition with the rest of the trees.

If you cut all the trees but one, it will fall at the first wind. People, who depend on their support group for survival, are like those trees in the forest. As soon as they loose that support (association), they struggle and fail. Leaders are like the solitary tree in the pasture. They can help the other trees grow strong and survive, but the seed must be planted away from the forest. The environment must support a strong foundation.


The growth of trees in the forest depends on how they can share the nutrients from the soil and sun (rationed knowledge). The amount of sun and rain at any one time must be divided among all the trees. They grow
tall to compete for the sun. They are always trying to get higher than the tree beside them. Interesting. It is not too different than when groups of people want to let others get ahead in life, but just not ahead of them.

Family and friends may want you to succeed but only to the level at which they will be comfortable with your success. I’m not sure that it is bad. It is just how people are. A leader steps out, succeeds, and then uplifts the people around him. That’s the mark of a real leader. People are better off because of him.

Fruit for Generations:

Another example of nature’s message to us can be found in an apple orchard. If the farmer wants a good crop of apples year after year, he plants the trees so that they will not have to complete with the other trees for sun, moisture and the nutrients in the soil. Too close and the trees can’t produce enough fruit. Too far apart and the farmer cannot produce enough fruit to be profitable…to sustain his business.

On the other hand, the farmer who produces trees for lumber, plants them close enough to grow but not to branch out. The trees grow tall and are harvested before they produce abundant seeds. Trees in the orchard produce fruit for today and seeds for the next generation. Trees in the forest produce lumber for today. The harvest precludes any seeds for the next generation.

That’s not too different than families who instill in their children good family values and teach them to pursue knowledge… to never quit learning. The seeds are planted for the next generation. It’s interesting that we see first generation families in this country that are self-reliant, responsible, and generational in their thinking. They often come from a survival environment with limited or no formal education. Then we find fifth generation families whose children can’t read after receiving a free education. Their survival depends on others and they feel entitled to convenience, comfort, and happiness. We must plant seeds today in order to sustain future generations.

Harvesting the Trees:

When we need lumber, we want straight boards. That old tree in the pasture with the thick stumpy trunk and twisted branches is only good for firewood. The short trunk will have huge knots from each of its branches. We leave it alone. Did you ever notice that the old trees in the pasture always have a smile when the sun shines on them? In their final days they will only be used to keep people warm.

In the woods, however, the trees were tall, few branches and perfect for making long boards. These trees got their support from the others so they were easy picking. Just one at a time. Trunks were narrow, long and had few branches. The lumber would be straight and had few knots. The trees never had a chance to get old. As soon as they grew tall, they became a cupboard, chair or deck.

What’s up, Grandpa?

What the heck was grandpa trying to tell me? If you are going to stand alone, if you want to be successful, if you want to be a leader, then, like the tree that stands alone, you must have a strong foundation and never quit growing. That strong foundation will come from the family, from the teachers and mentors that we let become a part of our lives. The growth will come from what we do today and tomorrow to build on that foundation.

Like the tree in the pasture, even with a strong broad root formation (foundation) that could resist the strongest winds, it will wither and die without light and moisture (knowledge/learning) to feed the leaves and roots. Conversely, without the roots to hold the tree and support the leaves, the sun and rain (knowledge) will be wasted.

If we are going to be leaders, we must start with a broad, strong foundation. When you talk to real leaders, they are humble and always willing to learn. The strong foundation gives them the strength to continue to seek knowledge. They recognize, like the tree that stands alone, that there will always be more sunshine and rain (knowledge) to process. They learn everyday.

If we choose to be like the trees in the forest and listen to the people around us, we will grow at their pace. We will never have our head above the crowd…be the tallest tree. And when harvest time comes, we will be like the rest of them…part of someone’s cupboard, chair or deck.

It is a Decision:

We make decisions every day. The easier decisions give us comfort as we stand among the tall trees around us. Our comfort zone is in the association with others. We live in commonality and resist standing alone. We share the sunshine; compete for the rain; and breathe common air. We grow in concert with our surroundings, carefully not to outgrow those around us. The tough decision is stepping out of the trees and seeing the sun, feeling the rain, and breathing fresh air. Some decisions give us strength, like the tree in the pasture. It is tough to step out

If the decision is to stand alone, to be a leader, to be the strong tree looking down at all the trees in the forest, our roots must be broad, our trunk must be strong, and our branches must reach out for the sun and rain. We must develop that strong foundation, strong will and commitment, and seek any and all knowledge that will help us grow.

Like grandpa said, “the tree standing alone in the pasture is stronger than any tree in the forest.” Leadership begins with a decision. “Will I commit to becoming a leader or will I go with the crowd?” Leadership is lonely. Leadership is humbling. Leadership is tough. But leadership has the reward of helping others to achieve great things. A leader reaches out his hand when people struggle or fail. His puffed up moment, when he sticks his chest out, is when people succeed.

Make a decision to help others succeed and you will have made the first decision toward becoming a leader.

Make it a great day

Dr L