Trees are remarkable things. They perform a variety of functions and keep our environment in balance. One of the oldest living things on earth is a giant sequoia that stands nearly 30 stories high, is almost 40 feet wide, and is believed by scientists to be well over 2,200 years old. Bonsai trees, on the other hand, are often tiny in comparison to a sequoia, yet provide remarkable joy and beauty. We think of trees as a permanent part of the landscape. Trees perform various functions: shade, food, medicine, building materials, and reproduce other trees. Some trees are hardy and are able to withstand a variety of harsh conditions. The Royal Palm endures big storms like few other trees and different from other types of palm trees. When wind speed increases, the fronds will break off from the tree. By the time the winds from a storm are strong enough to topple a tree, all that is left is the sturdy trunk, which most often endures winds of upwards of 150 mph. Trees are widely used by humans because of their strength and durability. The Baobab tree in Africa is used for canoes, water tanks, and in some cases people live in their huge trunks. Without trees, our planet would not be the same.
So what is the connection between trees, leadership, and organizations? Just like trees are play a key role in the survival of humans over the centuries, great leadership is fundamental to the prosperity of a modern organization. An organization without leaders isn’t an organization at all. These people perform a variety of vital functions like developing talent, transferring knowledge, giving direction, and coaching and sharing feedback. Similarly to trees, leaders are diverse in their strengths, weaknesses, style, and characteristics, but the fact remains that leaders are necessary.
One of the most important skills performed by leaders in any organization is coaching.
Coaching has four key components, just like the tree and its sustainable root system, sturdy trunk, a healthy branch system, and canopy of leaves, flowers, and fruit. Coaching operates in much the same way the tree does and we affectionately call this system the “Coaching Tree.” First, there is the root system that consists of the most fundamental and essential types of coaching. This is your day to day feedback, observations, and “on the spot” natural coaching. Like the roots feed water and nutrients to the tree every day, a leader has to be willing to supply coaching on a continuous basis to the organization or team members regarding day to day events. Next is the trunk. Coaching at the trunk level symbolizes coaching that should occur on a less frequent basis, perhaps every month or two. This gives leaders the opportunity to coach on topics like behaviors, expectations, and the code of conduct. As you move up the tree, you reach the branches. Branches equate to coaching around topics like skills, knowledge, and competency. This type of coaching should typically occur on a quarterly or trimester basis. Finally we reach the canopy level of coaching where the leaves, flowers, and fruit grow. This symbolizes the kind of coaching that focuses on results, contribution, and value to the organization. This is also strategy coaching that has a longer term perspective. It could focus on strategic initiatives, career plans, innovation or anything that has a longer time horizon. The frequency for coaching employees and mentoring may occur on an annual or semi-annual basis.
When a leader brings the coaching roots, trunk, branches, and canopy together they create a powerful feedback system that covers employees’ needs and the organization’s requirements for a healthy enterprise. Coaching that is skillfully administered and is robust becomes embedded and helps produce a “high output team.”