“Blah, blah, blah”… and other ways not to hit the “tree”

A tired man was driving through a desolate, flat desert with only a lone tree that could be seen up ahead in the distance. He kept thinking “don’t hit that tree, no matter what, don’t hit that tree…”

The miles went on, his head nodded, and…as he swerved and frantically looked up to make sure he wasn’t going to hit anything, his eyes widened as he again locked in on the tree… right before he crashed into it.

In the span of five days, I heard variations on this story from three different leaders I respect (including race car driving, and snowboarding!). Two of them were using it to illustrate how they see me teaching clients the power and momentum that comes by carefully choosing what we focus on, and so that got me thinking…

I consider myself a good listener, but there are definitely times when I hear myself saying to both the organizations and individuals I work with: “blah, blah, blah… while everything you just said is true… NONE of it matters.  And, in fact, we’re not going to spend any time on those issues.” Yikes.

“Those issues” often range broadly from “our classical music audiences are dying,” to “we have a dysfunctional board/staff,” to “I feel stuck in my current role.” Pretty significant facts and dynamics, don’t you think?

And yet, while “those issues” may indeed be impacting an organization, when I am immersed with my clients, I find myself focusing on two key things:

  1. Creating clarity on what are we working towards and why – in terms of impact.

It’s so important to create a mandate, or an intention, or a common (and shared) goal. Once that is known, we can more clearly see why “it” must be achieved for the greater good.

  1. Creating a clear path to achieve that defined goal or intention.

The best way I know how to help people achieve anything that matters is to:

  • See and reveal existing strengths
  • Choose, reinforce and celebrate any behaviors, thoughts and actions that contribute to the possibility that the goal will be achieved
  • Leverage existing momentum towards that goal (no matter how small the momentum may be initially).

Without this two-pronged approach, it can be so easy to spend our time focused on the problems, which then leads to the creation “weakness based” strategies – which, by the way, can often appear as “best practices.” Often, this causes us to feel like it will require “force” of some kind create change.

Or worse, we create an acceptance that our problems cannot be addressed, because they are out of our control.

Instead, let’s focus on what we WANT to occur, why, and what currently exists that we can build upon, celebrate and leverage. This is not “just” positive thinking. This is leadership – and YOU can make great things happen.

The “Tree” will still exist, but your focus will be elsewhere.

To your success,


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