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Being the Best Not the Biggest

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to focus on the best not the biggest. Reading time: 3:49

      The soaring 257- foot Sequoia tree planted prominently in the CEO’s office seemed to scream to all visitors: “BEHOLD-All -Ye-Who-Enter. This is Command Central Of The Largest, The Biggest, The Tallest Company in the World in our Industry.”

      sequoia1But this CEO had another idea in mind when he showcased the BIGGEST photograph in the company, of the BIGGEST tree in the world, on the BIGGEST wall in his office.

    That photograph became a meaningful and memorable teaching tool to REFOCUS the company’s leadership position as the BEST in the industry not merely the biggest.

      The CEO argued his best vs. biggest case most significantly –and visually– whenever he met with a candidate for a leadership position in the company.

       Invariably, the candidate would see that soaring Sequoia in the photograph and say something about the thrill of working for the biggest company in the industry. Then the CEO’s teaching moment was off and running. “Our focus is on being the best not the biggest,” the CEO would then intone.

    Best vs. Biggest

        sequoia tree general shermanThe CEO would then point to his huge framed photograph—all 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide—dominating his office. Then he’d launch into his well-rehearsed, often repeated, statistical barrage on the largest living things on earth.

      “Take a look at that Sequoia tree. It is as tall as a 25-story building or more,” the CEO began as if introducing a documentary film on the awe and majesty of Mother Nature’s tallest wonder of the world.

     “The Sequoia tree is so big it weighs as much as 14 blue whales—the largest known animal to have ever existed. In fact, a Sequoia tree would need a belt 100 feet long to cover its girth and three parking places to plant its footprint.”

      The CEO was on roll now. He noted some Sequoia trees are still growing (around if not up) 3,000 years later at Sequoia National Park in Nevada and California. Gravity keeps these trees from growing much taller than 300 feet, but virtually nothing stops the tree from virtually growing its girth.

     The biggest  and broadest Sequoia that are still growing were planted when David slew Goliath and then became King of the ancient Israelites in 1006 BC. That means those Sequoia trees we can see up close today were growing 250 years before ancient Rome (786 BC) was founded and 500 years before Socrates was born (349 BC).

                                        Too Insulated

      sequoia Grizzly_Giant_Mariposa_GroveBut after more than 30 centuries –and more than 150 generations—the wood of a Sequoia tree is so brittle it shatters when it crashes to the ground. Ironically its “big” lumber can only be used for shingles, match sticks and fence posts.

      Indeed, being the Biggest can become a burden. That’s the first leadership lesson the CEO shared with all job candidates. The second and most pertinent to a new leader at the company was staying vigilant to continuously improve and be alert to changes in the marketplace.

       When you’re big, you can become too insulated, too protected. The CEO compared that insulation to the three  feet of bark on a Sequoia tree that is so think, it’s virtually fire-proof, rot-proof, and bug proof.

       With all that insulation –and isolation from the “real” world–  your arrogance will more likely blind your judgement. You could become embolden like the 9-foot giant. Goliath was so big, he merely laughed at a young boy armed only with a stone and a sling shot. But David knew better.

       Like all savvy leaders, he knew he had to lead. With his BEST foot forward.

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