Reading the Leaves

Uncategorized Jan 04, 2021

Reading the Leaves

I have come to know the importance of acknowledging your strengths. I also believe in celebrating what is right. But I find it interesting how our culture has developed a keen disconnection to reality.

If I was properly following the “Facebook Guide to Life”, I wouldn’t share this message. I wouldn’t tell you that I really blow it sometimes as the leader of my family and my kids aren’t perfect. I am learning to despise in-authenticity. Mostly because I understand that unacknowledged blind spots have real consequences.

A few years ago the following took place.

My mother-in-law’s house sits in an oak forest in northwest Arkansas. The oaks are a vital feature of the landscape and ecology and provide a beautiful habitat. They also provide leaves which are in constant need of being raked. My boys got that job during our visit and they were doing just fine until I decided to help them. That’s when the teachable moments began. I could have gone out and taken several shots of the boys raking, complete with before and after pictures to show my pride in their work ethic to all my “friends”. I could do that and move on with my life blissfully and willfully ignorant of reality.

The truth is that my boys would rather have been sitting in the house glued to a screen and, shall we say, they were not fully engaged in their work.

My response wasn’t a complete disaster. Maybe a 7 out of 10.

It’s a simple job really. Move the leaves from here to there. However, it seems the three of us, each possessing our own unique personality and temperament, had different ideas about how that should happen. To my mother-in-law’s credit she had taken he time on the front end to set clear expectations for the boys. I just decided the bar was too low and we needed to be more thorough about getting the leaves out from under the deck and from the middle of the bushes. Convincing the boys of this took considerable persistence. I would like to say that I was patient and coached the boys to this conclusion. It was more like,

“Quit arguing with me and just do it!”

The leaves were so thick that a leaf blower was of no use until the very end of the job. I made this fact known to the boys early on but, in the middle of the job, my oldest son (who has a way of “listening” to instructions and then doing it his own way) decided to pull out the cord and blower and try it anyway. I not-so gently got him back on the rake. After several tarp loads were dragged downhill and spread out, it was time to get the leaf blower out for the final clean up.

Once again, I gave specific instructions that were completely ignored. The deck is an octagon with about a foot of clearance on the stair side and three feet on the opposite side. I had told my son to blow the leaves from the high side and through the low side. I also explained to him that a leaf blower works best when you move it back and forth from side to side instead of just pointing it in one direction and expecting it to work.

Of course, my son chose to walk with the blower all the way around the perimeter of the deck essentially blowing the leaves in a circle under the deck. When I got him back to the high side, he just stood up straight and blindly stuck the blower under the deck. Finally, I grabbed the blower, crawled under the deck myself and blew the leaves out.

I wish that were the end of the story. But even after my point was made about how to get the leaves out from under the deck, my advice about moving the blower side-to-side was ignored as he continued to point the blower only in one direction. With one last discussion, he caught on and finished the job without further drama.

Once all was said and done, my son and I debriefed. To his credit, he recognized that there was nothing wrong with his ability to do the job only his attitude about it. For me, there were two distinct teachable moments. Seeing my son standing next to the deck with the blower blindly pointed beneath reminded me of the approach we typically take towards our goals. For various reasons, we give half-hearted measures in hopes that it will somehow make a difference. Without the transparency of testing and measuring we have no way of knowing how we are progressing. 

We want to be thinner but we refuse to step foot on the scale. We take no effort to track the number of calories we are taking in or burning.

We want to grow our business so we throw money at some form of advertising hoping it will give us a return but take no steps to know if our money is going to good use.

We want quality employees but we don’t have an accurate job description or real-time way of measuring performance.

The other moment that was an instant lesson for me was when I saw my son pointing the blower straight ahead while staring at immobile leaves. That Little Voice in my head said,

“That’s what it is like when you only use your default way of disciplining your kids/ (training your staff) and are not flexible enough to try another way – even the ones you know make a difference.”

As my friend says,

 “Whatever your situation, there is something, no matter how small, you can do today to make it better.”

Thankfully, this side of eternity, there are plenty more leaves out there to help us discover our blind spots.



Rick Burris


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