What to plant?
December 19, 2007
Nothing is wrong in planting wheat or trees even though this proverb implies our most important visions are lifetime ones. That it ends with "plant people" makes it obvious. And true it is.
But let's be counterintuitive. People also need "wheat" this year and "trees" in ten. Does planting people negate also looking after "wheat" and "trees."
Resisting the implied emphasis, I ask you as leaders: "What governs what you're doing next year?"
I face a dilemma: we need $58 million in cash or pledges over the next 12-18 months to purchase a new 56 acre campus in the city of Toronto, and investment funds for retrofits, programs, faculty and software. Unapologetically, it is critical that I plant "wheat" to reach the short-term vision.
I don't want this proverb to impose guilt by implying that short and medium term goals are inferior to a lifetime vision.
Yes, without a long term vision we muddle in the micro, fussing over arranging seats or lining up paper clips. Unless I can define in two minutes or less why what I'm doing now matters 20 years from now, I'm probably lost in the muddle.
With that as our backdrop, let's focus our attention on short and medium term goals. In my experience, this is where we drop the ball.
We are at the end of the North American football season. Excitement builds when toward the end of a game, with two minutes left and the score close enough so that if the losing team can score a touchdown in the remaining seconds, they can win. Starting from deep in their end zone, the quarterback executes a play-by-play strategy that gradually moves them forward, and with just seconds left, makes the final move that takes them into the end zone for victory.
The whole team had a lifetime vision for winning. It is the leader who executes short term plans. With an eye on the time-clock and with a strategic awareness of the opposing team, he deftly integrates his team's strengths to strike at their opponent's weaknesses.
Current leadership lingo is "vision". As valuable as that is, the usual faltering in execution of strategies to meet vision is from a lack of knowledge around, "What are we doing this month, week, day?" I know because this is my weakness. I love talking "vision," the "big picture," seeing life from "33,000 feet." My language and thoughts are salted with these metaphors.
What I wish I had learned to do 45 years ago was to insist on business plans: a written document working out how the idea would be realized. Not with a quick, hour or two scribble of what I hope we will do, but a logically and systematically organized plan that not only makes sense to others, but becomes a measurement against which what I do can actually be measured.
It's no wonder to me why NGOs and not-for-profits flounder. We clearly see the bigger vision, but that's not usually our problem. We cover up laziness or a lack of professional competence with much language, gushing over "vision."
Next time anyone wows you with vision, ask to see their business plan. Fiery words are vital, but without careful planning it may end up being just that.
God of vision and ordered Creation, keep me as a leader within the discipline of enabling vision to be realized. May the prosaic and dull elements needed to bring about vision not be ignored. By Your Spirit, fan the fire so that the life-energy required to make the vision a reality be as deeply satisfying as describing the vision. Amen.
If your vision is for a year, plant wheat.