“If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.” Chinese Proverb
There is no doubt that a beautiful bouquet of freshly cut flowers is far more beautiful than the seeds they came from. However, great leaders realize how costly it is to sit and admire the flowers. They know that their efforts need to be focused on continuously planting seeds.
Abraham Lincoln could have been showered with money, votes, and praise (fresh cut flowers) if he had buckled to the pressure of the slaveowners. Instead, he chose to do what was right and plant seeds for freedom. Martin Luther King, Jr. did much of the same thing. He had much to gain from his critics by backing off and remaining silent. He chose not to, and the seeds he planted shape much of our society today.
These two men chose to plant seeds for freedom, foregoing the flowers they could have chosen to enjoy, and as a result have become icons for all time.
Jesus certainly understood this concept. He could have ruled over all the Earth, and he was tempted to do so while he made his journey through the desert (see week 2). This temptation must have been near impossible to resist. How many people do you know that would pass up on the opportunity to rule the world (even if in a good way, e.g — to create peace)? Instead, Jesus stayed on mission. His kingdom was not of this world. He planted seeds in the hearts of men so that his “garden” would grow, flourish, and blossom.
There is a great book about business and leadership called “Good Profit”, authored by Charles G. Koch, in which he repeatedly discusses how innovation should try to continuously kill off your “older” products. He calls this “creative destruction”. In the book, Koch describes the ground beneath any new product as “crumbling” as soon as it is rolled out. This is wise insight, and great leaders see business (or any other organization) this way. As soon as something comes to fruition, to maturity, it is nice to see the fruits of your labor. But, resting on your laurels is something that is instinctively repulsive to great leaders. Great leaders know that you must continue to plant seeds and water the garden so that the plants continue to sprout and blossom. The freshly cut flowers are for others to enjoy, but as leaders, your job is to ensure that the flowers keep blossoming and can be cut tomorrow for future enjoyment. Great leaders are much more focused on the seeds they plant instead of the beautiful flowers that have grown from them.
Personally, I feel very blessed to have this trait. I am much more focused on seeds than flowers, almost to a fault. I don’t take much time to “smell the roses” and enjoy things. I need to get better at that, admittedly, in order to create more balance, which I do believe is a godly thing. I can’t get over the drive to worry more about what flowers will be cut next week rather than focusing on the flowers that are being cut today. I thought deeply about why this is. Why is it that I don’t get much pleasure from enjoying the cut flowers today? Then, it hit me. It’s because I have already enjoyed them! You see, when you lead, you have to cast a vision. So, when I see that vision become a reality, I am really just feeling satisfaction from a job well done as far as execution. I have already enjoyed the results because I have already dreamed of it, and have enjoyed it as something I wanted to create (the vision). It’s the enjoyment and excitement of this vision that helps to drive me!
There is another story that this topic really resonates with, in my opinion. The story is very old school, from Aesop’s Fables. Many of you are probably familiar with this story, the story of the “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs”. In the story, a cottager and his wife discover a hen on their farm that laid a golden egg every day. They supposed that the hen must contain a great lump of gold in its inside, and in order to get the gold, they killed her. Having done so, they found to their surprise that the hen differed in no respect from their other hens. Thus, this foolish pair, hoping to become rich all at once, deprived themselves of the gain of which they were assured day by day.
This story has more than one theme, including a warning against both greed and impatience. But, the connection I get from this story is this: The goose must be cared for, every day. Just because it lays beautiful eggs which are valuable and wonderful to look at, that egg will eventually be lost or spent. The only way to get real prosperity and growth is to take care of the goose. Take care of the goose, and the golden eggs continue to be laid, day after day. Focus on the golden egg, and neglect the goose, and all will dry up and will result in a slow death of growth and prosperity. I see this a lot as a result of the line of work I am in. I believe some might call this issue “complacency”. In business, business owners/leaders that spend too much time enjoying their fresh cut flowers slowly migrate toward this enjoyment and away from caring for the garden. Eventually, the soil turns bad and there are no seeds left. In contrast, great leaders envision the freshly cut flowers, and certainly appreciate them. But, they focus more on tending the garden than on how wonderful the flowers are.
When we talk about Jesus and other great leaders planting seeds, we are not always talking about monetary wealth, of course. So, be careful in how you define wealth. We are more talking about growing their mission and fulfilling their purpose. Jesus chose to plant seeds very deliberately, cautiously, and in the hearts of men that were carefully chosen to carry those seeds around with them. He knew that his time on Earth was limited, and that his legacy (and therefore his mission) would not be fulfilled unless he planted seeds.
Leaders could learn a lot by studying Jesus’ deliberate work in planting seeds rather than enjoying the flowers.
More Scripture relevant to the above:
From 2 Corinthians 9
“This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.”
From Genesis 26
“Now Isaac, planting seed in that land, got in the same year fruit a hundred times as much, for the blessing of the Lord was on him.”
From Psalm 44
“Uprooting the nations with your hand, and planting our fathers in their place; cutting down the nations, but increasing the growth of your people.”
From 1 Corinthians 3
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working.”