There’s an ancient Greek Proverb that I was reminded of this weekend. “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” This one sentence packs an absolute wealth of advice, if those who read it take the time to understand it and apply it to their daily lives.
One basic tenet of leadership; of life in general; is to leave something in better condition than it was when we received it. All too often we apply this to material objects. For example, if I borrow your car, I’m going to return it with a full tank of gas. If I borrow your screwdriver, I’ll clean it before I return it. But what about those things that aren’t just “things?” What about people?
One of my life focuses is to leave people in a better condition than they were in when I met them. Leave them in a better mood; leave them with a feeling of accomplishment or togetherness; leave them with a “win.” Admittedly, I’m not always successful. People are people (que Depeche Mode), and when emotions are involved, not every encounter will end with that win. I believe my successes vastly outnumber my misses.
So, how does this tie to the ancient Greek proverb? There’s a few different ways.
First, this isn’t something I learned in a vacuum. I learned this way of thinking from my parents, who likely learned it from theirs. I know for a fact that this is how my Grandma Smith viewed life. She helped plant that tree for my Dad to sit under, as my Dad did for me. Brief moments I remember with my Grandpa Gordon reflected the same thing, as did my Mom. And so on. Now it’s my turn to plant that tree for my kids; and I try to lead them with that simple example every day.
Second, this is a trait I’ve seen in every great leader I’ve ever followed. The leadership they exhibited had lasting effects; affecting positive change and results long after they transitioned to other positions.
Lastly, I see my family, friends, co-workers; and most importantly my children; learning how I interact with those around me. My goal is simple. If I can help those around me, in every facet of my life, communicate with each other and treat each other better, it will spread to those I have never met. This will create yet another shade that I will likely never sit in, and it’s totally worth it.
Now go. Plant a tree today.