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A Leadership Fable You Shouldn't Forget

In my work helping leaders identify root causes, I was struck by the illustration of stapling apples that Paul Trip uses in Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands.
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Let's say I have an apple tree in my backyard. Each year its apples are dry, wrinkled, brown and pulpy. After several seasons my wife says, "It doesn't make any sense to have this huge tree and never be able to eat any apples. Can't you do something?" One day my wife looks out the window to see me in the yard, carrying branch cutters, an industrial grade staple gun, a ladder, and two bushels of apples.

I climb the ladder, cut off all the pulpy apples, and staple shiny, red apples onto every branch of the tree. From a distance our tree looks like it is full of a beautiful harvest. But if you were my wife, what would you be thinking of me at this moment?

If a tree produces bad apples year after year, there is something drastically wrong with its system, down to its very roots. I won't solve the problem by stapling new apples onto the branches. They also will rot because they are not attached to a life-giving system. And next spring, I will have the same problem again. I will not see a new crop of healthy apples because my solution has not gone to the heart of the problem. If the tree's roots remain unchanged, it will never produce good apples.

The point is that, in leadership, much of what we do to produce growth and change in ourselves and others is little more than "fruit stapling." It attempts to exchange apples for apples without examining motives, the root behind the behavior.

Are you merely putting policies in place to ensure certain behaviors, or are you digging to the root to engage the hearts and minds of your team?

Motives matter, so stop stapling apples, and get to the root of the matter.

Lean more about how to fully engage your employees. Read free book chapters from the author's book Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees.

 

Last updated: Jun 25, 2014

LEE COLAN | Columnist

LEE COLAN is founder of The L Group, a consulting firm that equips and inspires leaders at every level. He is a leadership advisor, presenter of practical ideas, and a Thinkers 50 nominee for Top Management Thinker.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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