Service above self: What leaders can learn from “The Giving Tree”

One of my favorite books of all time is the children’s book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  In short, the book is about the relationship between a boy and a tree.  Throughout the boy’s life, the tree offers whatever it can to make the boy happy—to swing from its branches, to pick and eat, or sell, its apples—to even cut it down and build a boat to sail away—all in an unselfish manner.

Great leaders do the same with their employees—doing whatever they can to help employees feel valued and be successful.  I love when I catch a glimpse of this as a customer and witness great servant leadership—a manager in the grocery store stepping in to bag groceries when it gets busy; the manager in a restaurant clearing dirty dishes from a table to seat guests faster; a manager taking the time to train an employee on a process they haven’t quite mastered yet.  All so they can unselfishly meet the needs of the employee, and ultimately, the external customer.

Leading is giving

My favorite part of the book, and the one that always makes me cry, is at the end when the boy, now an old man, comes back to visit the tree that is just an old stump.  The tree is sad since she doesn’t think she has anything else to offer the boy, but is overjoyed to find out that the boy just wants a place to sit and rest, and a stump is a great spot to do just that!

What’s the attitude of the leaders in your organization?  Is it to serve—or to be served?  What can leaders in your organization teach employees that may help them in their jobs?  How can leaders help their employees manage their time more efficiently to reduce stress?  What can the organization do to show employees that truly ARE the best asset to the organization?

Being a true servant leader is putting the needs of others ahead of your own in service to a larger organizational goal or purpose.  The good news is that in doing so, you will get so much in return yourself.  That’s ultimately what the giving tree experienced.  Because in the end, as the book says, “and the tree was happy.”

About the author:

Kathy Cuff is one of the principal authors—together  with Vicki Halsey—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Legendary Service training program.  Their customer service focused posts appear on the first and third Thursday of each month.

8 thoughts on “Service above self: What leaders can learn from “The Giving Tree”

  1. Love your thoughts and insights, and you are so right! What a wonderful, and simple way to share such a positivity!

  2. The giving tree brought back so many fond memories of my childhood.
    As a child you might forget valuable lessons taught. As an adult you learn positive lessons, but we must NOT forget to share what we have learned.

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  4. Great thoughts and a real positive way to get the day started! We must always remember that we are here to serve, not to be served. As long as we can remain focused on this, we can move our organizations and the Fire Service forward.

  5. I remember reading the book as a child. 25 years later it was given to me as a gift and it continues to shape my leadership style!

    How amazing would the world be if every leader was a servant-leader?

  6. This book has become a “must read” among the members of our team. I initially introduced it several years ago as a selection in our “Leaders Are Readers” meeting, and new team members always seem to be intrigued by the copy that is in my office. As a result, it’s become universally known, without me ever having had to assign it.

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