My life as a consultant can get pretty chaotic and sometimes unbalanced. Our home and the land around it provide me with the grounding I need to keep a level head. We look to the land for firewood, for the joy of walking in the forest, observing wildlife and, in late winter and early spring, to produce our yearly crop of Maple Syrup.

This year’s process of tapping trees, collecting then boiling the sweet sap has provided me with time to think of leadership lessons I learn from the ritual.

This winter, an overabundance of snow and a very late thaw has made the process much more complicated than in the past.  In previous seasons, I used my trusty All Terrain Vehicle to carry me to the bush, collect the sap and carry back the heavy pails of sap.  The thick snow cover and late thaw have rendered this trustworthy tool useless so we are back to snowshoes and carrying the pails.  The change has provided me with time to think as I snowshoe from one tree to another.

Here are some of my musings and the leadership questions that come to mind:

Prepare with the end in mind

This season, I’ve maximized the number of pails set out to collect sap.  The slow sap run has given me time to tap more trees.  The late season also means that when it comes, the sap run will be fast and furious if one can use that image with maple trees. Because I have no control over the weather, I have to be ready for a quick thaw and have all resources prepared for the potential harvest.  Here are some parallel questions that relate to leadership:

  • As a leader, how do I remain connected to the end goal?
  • What can I do now that sets the table for a productive future?
  • What needs to be readied now for future success?

 Use constraints to learn

Circumstances (snow and late thaw) rendered past methods (ATV) useless this season.  The snowshoe approach really slows us down but at least we can get the job done with more sweat equity.  The slower pace has given me the opportunity to move through the bush at a different pace and, in doing so, notice many more trees that can produce sap.  Slowing down gave me a very different perspective. Without the constraints, I wouldn’t have had the time to notice as much.

  • As a leader, can I slowdown in order to look at my team and organization from a different angle?
  • Do I give myself a mandate to learn more on a regular basis?
  • Am I paying attention to contributors, clients, processes and learning from them? 

Be patient

When you attempt to produce maple syrup, you enter a world of uncontrollable factors.  The snow cover, the temperature gradients, the intensity of sunlight or cloud cover…all come into play and affect the amount of sap a tree will produce and the pace at which the sap will flow.  Early in the season, I noticed I was getting anxious over the pace of production.  I needed to let go of what I couldn’t control and focus on what I could do, which leads us back to the first point above.

  • As a leader, what is out of my control or influence?
  • How can I make peace with myself about the things I can’t control?
  • What am I doing about the things I can control or influence?

This past week, I had a conversation with a client who had worked with me to transform the culture of his organization.  The front end work of building trust, righting wrongs, engaging his management team and developing leadership behaviors that set the table for engagement had taken us around two years of investment.  He persevered, took ownership of what he could control and influence (namely himself and the behaviors of his leadership team), developed a learning mindset and took the risk of creating collaborative processes to involve all staff in shaping the future of his organization.

He shared with me the high level of enthusiasm, confidence, contribution and care that now permeate his organization. When I think back on our efforts, perhaps the lessons from my maple bush are just reflecting the lessons we learned together in shaping a collaborative culture.