Elders in our Native American communities have always said that nature is our best teacher and the outdoors our best classroom. If we observe nature, we can often learn all the lessons we need to be effective leaders and happy, healthy human beings. A great lesson in leadership investment comes from the humble squirrel.
Every fall, it is common to witness squirrels scurrying about feverishly, all day every day, gathering nuts, digging holes and looking around suspiciously as they store them away for winter. If the squirrel is diligent in this task, it fares well through the unforgiving winter and survives to thrive in spring. If it isn’t, well…
Of course, squirrels are storing the nuts away because they understand that winter is harsh and offers few resources to draw from so, they create a food bank to withdraw from as needed. The reason they store so many away, according to the University of Richmond, is that the squirrels suffer up to 74% loss, 25% because of theft (other squirrels, birds, etc.) and the remainder due to their own forgetfulness (…now, where’d I put that darn nut?).
As leaders, we must “collect and store” a cache of positive interactions within our teams. These interactions can come in the form of guidance, encouragement, praise, meaningful conversations or collaboration. They build social capital, goodwill and trust within the team. The more, the better because many of these will be forgotten over time and there will be hard and challenging times where we will have to withdraw from the cache in which we’ve invested.
Investing in these relationships to create trust is worth the time and effort required. When you’ve got trust built with your team, they’ll follow you through the fires of challenge, setbacks and fear. If you’ve not built that trust, your team won’t follow you down the hallway. Creating this environment requires a willing investment of time and authentic, engaged interactions.
Our friendly squirrels remind us of this concept as well in determining the difference between a quality nut and a dud. They pick up the nut and feel it, if it has the right heft and weight, they decide it’s substantial and worthy of storing away. The lightweight, hollow shells prove empty and get tossed away. We can apply this dynamic to leadership when we remember that giving insightful and specific feedback to a team member who just successfully completed a major project is much more meaningful (a keeper) than just a generic “way to go” comment (a dud).
The last thing our wise squirrels teach us is the unexpected impact of our actions. Out of the many nuts that are forgotten and left behind, some of them become trees that produce thousands more nuts. So, leaders pay attention here – no good interaction goes to waste! We never fully know the impact or effect of our actions, so keep putting the time and effort into enhancing your connections, fostering your team members’ growth and guiding them with encouragement. Because after all, the best leaders aren’t the ones with the most followers – the best leaders are the ones who create the most leaders.