California redwoods are enormous, majestic trees that can grow taller than a 30-story building. A full-grown California redwood is estimated to weigh greater than one million pounds. The massive redwoods can be so wide that in some places tunnel-like roads have been built through their tree trunks.
A mature California redwood tree is virtually indestructible. It has no known diseases, and insects pose no threat to its health. The thick bark of the redwood even makes it resistant to most fires. Fierce winds are perhaps the tree’s greatest hazard. That’s because, even for trees towering 350 feet, the redwoods’ roots only grow about six feet deep. Erosion or wet soil can weaken the roots to the point where a giant redwood can be brought crashing down by blustery winds.
For a California redwood, a strong root system supplies nourishment to the tree and anchors it to the earth. Character serves the same function for a leader. The strength of a person’s character below the surface sustains his or her success in leadership. Stalwart character gives a leader a base of support from which to withstand the tumults of life.
How, as a leader, do you develop your “roots?”
The first requirement is to shift your attention. As my friend Andy Stanley says, it is a mistake to focus on what you want to do before you’ve decided who you want to be. As leaders, we can be in such a hurry to build our careers that we neglect to lay a solid foundation of integrity in our lives.
The second requirement is to identify specific character qualities that you would like to make a part of your character. Set aside time to ponder this question: when I’m gone, what do I want the people in my life to remember about me? Think about each of the meaningful relationships in your life and write out the response.
• How do you hope your co-workers will think about you after you’ve transitioned to another job or into retirement?
• What would you like your spouse to say at your funeral?
• What legacy do you want to leave your children?
• How would you want your church or community to describe your involvement in it?
Look for patterns in your answers. Words like generous, caring, or courageous may appear. These are the character traits you should hone in on developing.
The third and final requirement is to make the cultivation of character part of your regular routine. At the beginning of each week, strategize concrete ways in which you can demonstrate the character qualities you aspire to attain. If you want to be generous, then what can you give this week? If you would like to be caring, then who can you show regard for over the upcoming week? List out the specific actions you can take to build up your character. Review them during the week, and then evaluate how successful you were at accomplishing them at the week’s end.
If you diligently mold your character within, then over time it won’t matter what you do. Once you’ve grown your roots deep enough, whatever happens to you and whatever you choose to do, you’ll be in demand. With the roots of character to sustain you, you’ll experience true success.