There is something strange about the way we view ourselves within in jobs. On television there is always a leader who emerges from a difficult scenario or a person who saves a company single handed by making the right deal. But this isn’t how it works, or at least it shouldn’t. Throughout my career I’ve learned that anything of significance shouldn’t be done on your own. In order to build something significant you need to work as a team. Now, you may be the first person on a project or a person who comes up with the idea, but without a community to support you failure will be inevitable.
I recently started reading The Hidden Life of Trees, a book about the lives of trees and insight into how they communicate and how they function… socially. Images of the Entmoot from the Lord of the Rings comes to mind when I hear about communities of trees. But, as the book points out, the social lives of trees is extremely important and that forests have a way of regulating themselves and working together with each other or against a common foe.
What struck me was a chapter in which the author talks of the “mighty oak”, so often used as a symbol of strength and stability and how it all to often will falter under a little competition from other trees. Beech trees, which can outgrow oaks, will sometimes shoot up beside the oaks and block out the sunlight eventually leading it to die. In earlier chapters we learn that Beeches are also some of the most social of the trees, often times supporting each other by sharing sugars and ensuring that they can have enough sunlight to grow. They are not as strong as a single oak but they work together to survive.
Alternatively, oak trees can live on their own, survive outside of the forest but are then cut off from other protections that the forest provides. Isolated, they are often struck by lightening and need to spend energy to repair themselves, lest they befall a disease, fungal attack, or invasion by insects.
So what does this mean for how we view ourselves at work? Well, let me ask you.
Are you an Oak? Strong and alone, prone to falter at the first site of competition from others, insecure in your ability to grow on your own, and able to handle adversity on your own.
Or are you a Beech? Fostering a community to support one another so all can grow fast together to share in a common good.