On the last leg of my vacation in the mountains we left Yosemite Valley’s cliffs and waterfalls for the majestic forests of Sequoia. From the first time I set eyes on the giant Sequoias years ago I was in awe. I think that word was made for these trees. The largest living things on the planet, they can be as old as 3200 years, resist fire and disease, and are naturally located in only one place on earth. To walk amongst a forest of these mammoths is a surreal and spiritual experience.
When my wife, son and I were talking about our trip we each seemed to have favorite parts. My wife loved the waterfalls and streams. The flow, the movement, all captured her imagination. My son loved hiking the cliffs, especially his solo hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls from which he could see the entire valley and mountains beyond. He loved that perspective. For me the Big Trees have special meaning. There is something so humbling about being in their presence. What can you say about trees that survive multiple lightening strikes and fires and yet still live powerfully and majestically? Even their sawdust from the logging of the mid-1800s remain in defiant piles.
I was struck by the symmetry of my family’s comments. It seemed to bring me full circle to the beginning of this trip at a workshop in San Francisco. The presenter’s journey began in acupuncture school, where she learned a lot about healthy living but little about creating a business. One thing she kept from her early training in acupuncture was the concept of The 5 Elements:
Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. These five elements are central to her notion of leaving people more inspired than when you found them and to call them forth into action. Gee, what could that have to do with leadership?
I believe in synchronicity so I couldn’t help but reflect on connections made during this trip in the summer of 2011.
Ideally we want to manifest all five elements in balance. The first element is Fire: Basking in the glow of connection. Too much fire will burn those you’re trying to connect with. Too little and you’re burned out. In the forest the right amount of fire renews life. While in Sequoia National Park we got to witness a prescribed fire for that reason. For the giant Sequoia fire is required to germinate it’s tiny seeds and provide fertile ground and sunlight for it to grow.
When I coach leaders, especially newly minted ones, the distinction between management and leadership invariably comes up. Management is crucial for processes and systems, where certainty is a part of the equation. People, however, are more complex and require leadership. They require connection to something meaningful. A key task of leadership is creating the space for those connections. Fire.
The second element is Earth, which represents service and abundance. Mother nature, the deep knowing there is more than enough. When we come from a place of abundance we can focus on serving others. Scarcity, on the other hand, has an energy of neediness. Having grown up in NYC I’m always in awe of the abundance in these United States. It’s good to get out and get perspective, and realize there is more than enough.
Then there is Metal, the precious element of acknowledgment. When you see people’s magnificence, you are tapped into your own divinity. Studies have shown that employees will choose acknowledgment over bonuses.
Water is the element representing being curious. It’s about getting to depths not otherwise available. When we dive beneath the surface we get to know people at a level where we can connect meaningfully. Being curious opens us up to what we don’t know we don’t know. It’s where possibilities are hidden.
Finally there is Wood, the element of choice. This is the energy that sends the seed up through the earth. It’s our ability to support others in making choices aligned with their values and vision. The Giant Sequoia seed is the size of a grain of wheat. To break free of it’s cone it requires a fire, which also clears the forest allowing sunlight in and provides fertilizer from the burnt debris. Over the thousands of years of the tree’s life it provides habitat for countless other life forms. Nature seems to know what it was doing. We have a lot to learn.
Which elements do you feel are over or under represented in your life? Where are you out of balance? What might be the cost? What might be the opportunity? Share your thoughts.
Thank you for allowing me to share my “summer vacation” with you.