Lead the Field
There is an old story that Earl Nightingale tells in his talk, “Lead the Field.” I had it on a tape series 25 years ago and listened to it so many times that I literally wore the tapes out! The story is of a young father who was sitting in his favorite chair at the end of a long workday, trying to read the paper. His young, energetic son was bouncing all around him with questions and urging his father to do something. The father spotted a full-page ad inside the newspaper from a travel agency with a big picture of the earth on it. He decided to create a puzzle for his son by tearing the page into pieces, giving him some tape and challenging him to put the world back together again. He set his son up at the table and then sat back down in his chair to enjoy what he thought would surely be at least an hour of relaxation and quiet.
Ten minutes later the boy showed back up with the puzzle solved and tape holding all of the pieces together, and when his dad asked how he was able to do it so quickly he said, “It was easy, Dad. On the back side of the paper was a big picture of a man. When I put the man together, the world came together.” The father was not sure if his young son was able to comprehend the wisdom of this statement but the man was able to make the connection.
Our lives and the world that we live in can often seem so fragmented and when we’ve got so many plates spinning at the same time, sometimes it feels like everything falls apart at once. Turning on the news usually adds to the feeling that things are spinning around faster than we can keep up with, and we’re confronted with problems that seem so big and complex that we’ll never be able to solve them. The moral of the story is something that I’ve seen proven true time and time again: The world comes together when an individual gets things aligned and together for him or herself. The world comes together when families come together, companies come together, and communities come together.
This is the discussion that the JP Horizons team had on our drive back from Monroe County, Pennsylvania, after a great event that brought together leaders in the community to create a new focus for getting people back outside and appreciating the great outdoors. This event and all of the connections and collaboration between people that happened there started with an individual who got inspired and changed the way that he was put together. What Zech Strauser and his team at Strauser Nature’s Helpers put together as a result is another great story of the power of one inspired individual to start to change the way that their world is put together.
The Inspired Individual
Like a lot of great people who dedicate their lives to building outdoor spaces, Zech Strauser grew up playing in the woods. When he was young, his parents chose to live a very deliberate and natural lifestyle that put them in frequent contact with the outdoors. When Zech started his own landscape business as a young man and started to focus his energy on growing it into a successful company, his interaction with the outdoors slowly started to get replaced by hours writing emails and the responsibilities of running a business. Spending time in the woods or riding his bike steadily got replaced by the stress of the day to day work in the office. About two years ago, Zech looked at himself in the mirror and realized that he wasn’t the person he wanted to be. He’d packed on some pounds, hadn’t ridden his bike in 10 years and was suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency from spending almost all of his time indoors.
Nowadays, Zech talks a lot about the disconnect between people and the beautiful natural spaces that surround them. He decided to try to put himself together a bit differently and see if he could fix some of the things that he didn’t like. He dusted off his bike, quit smoking and started to look seriously at why he was in the landscape business in the first place. Around this time, it just so happened that Zech had me come in to start working with his company to start getting some systems in place to help them Work Smarter. We also got to talking about Come Alive Outside as the “WHY” behind the work that he and his team did to build and maintain beautiful yards and outdoor spaces. Things started to click into place, just like the story of putting together the man on one side of the paper and the world coming together on the other. Zech started to get inspired that he didn’t just want to change his habits, but also the culture of his company and the identity of his community.
“Energizing a team around a passion” could sound like just another bit of business consultant jargon. But, when a leader takes action and makes it real, the results are truly awesome. As a team comes together, it’s really inspiring to see success follow from it. Over the past two years, Zech’s team at Strauser Nature’s Helpers have become more and more energized by the reasons behind the work that they do. This week when the company hosted leaders from throughout the community to talk about helping people Come Alive Outside, someone at the event mentioned that the Nature’s Helpers team was the happiest group of employees they had ever seen.
It was inspiring to watch them do whatever it took to be ready for this event, then greeting the leaders of the community as they arrived, helping to get all of the cars in the parking lot, and being engaged in the meeting not only as an employee of the company but as a committed member of the community. In the spirit of Come Alive Outside, they were able to talk about rafting trips they were planning and inviting others from the community to attend. They could talk of their love for gardening, and even one employee’s commitment to ride his bike across America next year. This team of professionals illustrated that they were not just working for a paycheck or just cutting grass or installing landscapes; they know that what they do plays a big part in getting people back outdoors.
It’s a stretch to say that the energy and general happiness of the Nature’s Helpers team all stems from their boss and his decisions to start living healthier and getting back outdoors. But, when the boss starts to make the connection between spending time outside and his own happiness, it brings a level of sincerity to the business as well.
As his team is energized by the meaning and importance of their work, Zech knows he is no longer spending as much time in the day-to-day details of the business. Instead, he is watching leaders emerge and become engaged in making the business run as finely-tuned as possible. As this happens, Zech is now free to be working out in front of his business and leading it. Making connections in the community and serving on boards that help help the community collaborate to Come Alive Outside together has inspired his company to come together as well.
The Community Connection
Imagine the anticipation of a business owner whose day would normally start by getting an understanding of the work schedule for the day, discussing any immediate concerns that the staff might have or maybe a morning meeting with a client. But, rather than any of the normal business stuff going on, this morning the team is putting the finishing touches on setting up a white tent and 100 chairs aligned in a way that make it look more like the site of a wedding than a growing landscape company. The projector, screen and sound checks seemed as though a concert were about to start, and the trucks lined in a row made room for the additional 60 or 70 cars that would be bringing some of the key leaders of Monroe County to take part in this greatly anticipated breakfast meeting.
Zech’s vision is to get his community in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, connected with the identity that it used to have. Just like the disconnect between so many of today’s children and the outdoors, Zech feels like there is a disconnect between the identity of his community and the beautiful Poconos region that it is situated in. Over the past couple years as Zech started to put himself back together around his old passion of the outdoors and helped to inspire his business around that passion, he also started to shift his gaze to how his community could start to make a more meaningful connection with the great outdoors!
On Wednesday morning, over sixty leaders from the community, from the county commissioners to various business leaders to local non-profits, all gathered at the headquarters of Strauser Nature’s Helpers to hear Zech’s vision for the community. Over the next year, the community will host 10 Come Alive Outside events that get people of all ages outdoors and connecting with nature. They will build a new village green that will provide the outdoor space in which the community can gather for all kinds of activities and events. They will start to identify themselves as the type of community that places a high value on spending time outdoors and will communicate this message to the world.
More exciting than the things that the community will accomplish, though, is the collaboration and the common focus that they will do it with. As Zech told his story and laid out the early plans, people got excited. The disconnect between modern life and the outdoors that Zech first noticed in his own life a couple years ago is something that we all see in the world around us. When one person gets inspired and gets him or herself together, it’s often all it takes for the world to start changing in profound and wonderful ways!
Vision for the Future
For more pictures of the Come Alive Outside Event, check out our Facebook page.
Check out the Come Alive Outside Pocono Mountains website to find out what is going on in Strauser Nature’s Helpers’ community.