Leadership Lesson: Prescribed Burns

— August 14, 2019

For the past 100 years, we have carefully watched and patrolled the earth’s forests to prevent forest fires from destroying our national parks. The ugliness of raging fires leaves the land scarred and black. We have done our job well—perhaps too well.

A walk through a healthy forest will reveal a heavy blanket of debris and plant life. Trees reach to the sky, they’re in abundance almost blocking the sun from the forest floor. It seems peaceful, beautiful, and quiet. But it is a bit too quiet according to forest rangers.

Because we have carefully guarded the forest from fires, we have tipped nature’s scale into an unfavorable balance. Without fires periodically cleaning out excess plant life and removing dead debris, there is no longer a natural way of maintaining nature’s delicate balance. First, as the shade-loving plants increase, they create a thick bed that prevents the penetration of seeds needed for future tree growth. Second, if too many tall trees are growing, they block out the life-giving light necessary for the sun-loving plants below. Not only do we have an extreme fire hazard created by the excess debris, but we lose vital plant growth. To solve this problem, forest rangers have introduced prescribed burns.

As an area of the forest becomes too cluttered and dangerous, a controlled fire is created to burn out the unwanted debris and plant life. It is done with prescribed conditions only after careful study, monitoring, and site preparation. First, it must be done either in late spring or in early fall after a rainfall. Second, the degree of heat must be hot enough to considerably set back unwanted growth, but not too hot to damage the big trees. Third, an additional fire is set to remove the burned residue. Fourth, the area is then watched and monitored to determine growth progress.

Leadership Lesson: Prescribed Burns

The short-term effects of a fire are not aesthetically pleasing, but the long-term result is beneficial and even necessary. New growth softens the initial harshness of the fire. Without these prescribed burns, the whole forest would deteriorate and eventually cease to exist.

This analogy applies to our lives. Businesses, as well as relationships, need careful monitoring to ensure constant growth. Being open to ridding ourselves of excess “debris” and moving ahead is a healthy approach to any endeavor. If we are bogged down in heavy debris we might be choking out the very things we need to maintain a healthy environment.

Consider your organization, business, and relationships. Is it time, perhaps, for a “prescribed burn” to restore balance and promote vital growth?

This lesson has been excerpted from our award-winning 52 Leadership Lessons book. If you enjoyed this lesson and would like to read more, including additional insights and action items related to each lesson, please click here to purchase your own copy.

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Author: John Parker Stewart

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