Nothing Grows Under Big Trees

This observation comes from the Romanian sculptor Brancusi. It's a metaphor about ego. About how easy it is to focus so exclusively on ourselves that we prevent others from the opportunity to learn and grow from our influence. It's a trap that many leaders easily walk into, a trap from which there is virtually no escape. Well, there are three escape routes, but you won't like them.

The mistake made in the past was believing that our power originated within us. WE were the makers of our own success. We were kings and queens on the chess board of life. I believe in our potential. But folks, it's not you and it's not me. It's much, much bigger.

The ego won't recognize anything it can't take credit for. Consequently, those who are overly egotistical don't recognize very much. They can't see their way out of their own conceit. This is a problem for those of us in the speaking business, for example. We are on stage, honored with applause, occasionally a standing ovation. It is extremely hard not to think that it's us - our irrepressible style, rapier wit, unquestionable knowledge and sexual charisma. Some of us actually believe our own promotional material. The self-adulation coming from those who become "big trees" can get pretty tiring so here are the three ways out of the ego-trap.

1) Misfortune In a hurricane, big trees are thrown around like toothpicks. Conceited executives talk disdainfully to those beneath them - until they lose their job as a result of restructuring. Then they became everyone's pal, hoping someone will give them work.

2) Humiliation Sooner or later "big trees" go one step too far and society chops them down. We've all seen the invincibility of political and religious leaders shattered by a foolish comment or action. This is a painful, self-inflicted way to come crashing to earth.

3) Approaching Death Coming face to face with our mortality somehow lets us know just where we stand in the grand scheme of things. There are no "big trees" in heaven - God would find it irritating.

The greater the impact of our leadership, the more I hope we gratefully recognize that it isn't us. We have been chosen to lead the world to a new place. How honored and humbled that should leave us.

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Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers.

Ian Percy is an international speaker and consultant and can be reached at


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