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Wisdom I Learned from an Ojibwe Leader about Success

On a frigid December day in northern Minnesota, I was facilitating a strategic planning retreat for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. More than 75 people from different departments within the tribal government were meeting in small groups in the ballroom of one of their casino enterprises. I was introducing elements of the strategic planning process, step-by-step, and the participants were storyboarding their input on flipcharts at their tables. Many of the participants had never been asked to participate in a strategic planning process like this before, so part of my time was spent teaching and coaching about the different elements.

Tree of Organizational Success

Tree of Organizational Success

Two hours into the morning of the first day, Vicki, a leader from their Education Department, came up to me on a break and shared a metaphor of the tree, relating it to the strategic planning process. It described perfectly the significance of each element of the process and how each is related energetically and how all are connected to the whole system.

That night I captured her thoughts in the graphic shown, “The Tree of Organizational Success.” That tree became our guide for the next several days of our process. People got it! Since that day, I have continued to use it as a tool to guide groups in their strategic planning processes. Here’s the essence of what she shared with me.

Seed = Purpose: Every tree begins with a seed. The tree exists within the seed. Each seed has a specific, unique purpose. A pine-cone seed can grow up to be only a pine tree. An acorn can grow up to be only an oak tree. An apple seed can grow up to be only an apple tree. Every organization has a unique core purpose for how to serve the world. This is “the big why?”— the reason the organization was started in the first place—beyond just making money.

Roots = Values: With the right amount of sun, water and minerals from the earth, the seed begins to sprout roots. Roots help to nourish the tree by drawing water and minerals up from the soil. They also help to stabilize the tree against external forces like wind and floods. Roots also stabilize the tree within the surrounding soil, which can become weak from erosion. Roots are invisible to the eye, but they serve the tree in several other important ways. The deeper and wider the root system, the more nourishment the tree will receive. Roots represent the core values and culture in an organization. They are what your organization stands for. They are your legacy. The more widespread and deeply embedded your core values, the more likely it is that your organization will stand the test of time.

Trunk = Spirit / Life-force Energy = Mission and Vision: When the tree’s roots spread out and deepen enough, the tree begins to sprout and break through the surface of the earth. It first becomes visible as a delicate sprout that eventually forms the trunk. As the tree grows tall for all to see, its life-force energy and spirit becomes evident. The trunk of the tree is analogous to the mission and vision of an organization. Everyone can see and experience the magnitude of its energy and presence. The mission and vision are the life-force, or spirit, of the organization. Many will be prospered, served and inspired during the life of the organization.

Branches = Departments and Goals Set: Branches bud and spread out from the trunk in all directions. These branches will support the foliage and fruit that will come. The greater the reach of the branches and canopy, the more fruit the tree is capable of producing. It soon begins serving animals and insects—providing shade, food and refuge.The branches symbolize the various departments and the multiple goals of the organization. The loftier the goals set throughout your organization, the greater the potential for organizational and personal achievement.

Fruit = Success and Goals Achieved: As fall approaches, the world begins to see apples form on an apple tree. You—and the world—can now see how plentiful the harvest will become, weather and critters permitting. The fruits of your labor are becoming visible. The fruit harvest represents goals achieved, success manifested. A bountiful harvest serves your customers, employees and vendors.

I love the simplicity and organic perspective that I received from my student (and teacher), Vicki, that day.

Enjoy growing your bountiful tree of organizational success.

Much success and fulfillment,



(Adapted from the Introduction of my new book Energize Your Business: Engage Your Employees with an Inspiring Strategic Planning Process. Read free chapters and learn more at www.EnergizeYourBusiness.biz  )

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