Great Leaders Realize The Role Of The Roots

EDGE Fireside Chat - Donnie Smith Speaks To EDGENation

Over the past three years, Donnie Smith, President and CEO of Tyson Foods, has become a friend of the EDGE Mentoring organization. He’s been a keynote speaker at our annual leadership conference two of the past three years.

This past November, #EDGENation packed the North Beach facility at Northview Church for a fireside chat where Smith held the room captive. He openly shared personal stories with a passion and vulnerability that you rarely see from a CEO, let alone one of a Fortune 100 company.

Donnie Smith - EDGE Mentoring - Keynote

Shortly thereafter, in a powerful moment that captivated the audience of 2,000 attendees, Smith kneeled down to the floor to display the role that he and his executive team played in leading the incredible Tyson Foods turnaround.

When he took over as CEO in late-2009. Tyson Foods, like most businesses, was struggling mightily after the recession.

In 2009, Tyson would post a loss in net income of $547 million. In 2015, the company reported a staggering $1.2 billion in net income, with the stock increasing from $4.40 to over $60 per share during that same period.

The company has performed a dramatic and almost unbelievable turnaround under Smith’s leadership and he says it’s because their leadership team grasped the peach tree analogy and realized the role of the roots.

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The Role Of Executives And Managers

Smith explained that a major shift happened when they realized that their role as an executive team was to resource, invest in and provide assistance to the rest of the company, like the roots of a peach tree.

He then took the analogy a level deeper by likening his managers to a tree’s trunk, limbs, and branches. They are the ones who provide stability, structure and a healthy environment that allows the front line workers (the fruit) to flourish. 

Smith realized that when the employees on the front line flourish, the company will also flourish. 

At a corporate level, leadership must realize that their role is to not produce the fruit themselves, but to provide the maximum amount of resources for their team to produce the fruit.

From a corporate perspective, there are major benefits to understanding the role of the roots, but companies don’t run on ideology, they are run by people

What does this principle mean for us personally? How should it shape our perspective on our careers?

Superstructure, Structure, Substructure - EDGE Mentoring Image

As professionals, we have a tendency to gravitate towards that are visible, like awards, accolades, and accomplishments. 

This causes us to ignore and neglect the things that go unseen, which ironically enable us to achieve the awards, accolades and accomplishments we so desire. 

Millions of people travel across the world to see how high the Empire State Building stands but very few come to marvel at its substructure which enables it to reach magnificent heights.

@@If you focus on garnering influence and accomplishments, your focus is misplaced and your energy misguided.@@

A building is made up of three parts, the substructure, the structures, and the superstructure. In Edmund Chan’s book, Mentoring Paradigm, he argues, that our lives are similarly made up of three parts: 

Substructure – who we are and the things we do that no one can see that support every other element of our life. This layer is comprised of our spiritual disciplines, the time we spend exercising, our time in meditation and the margins we have built into our schedule.

Structure – this layer supports our outward faculties and is comprised of the relationships that we keep with our family, friends, co-workers, and community.

Superstructure – the outward accomplishments of our life, who’s strength and sturdiness is directly correlated to the effectiveness of the structure and substructure. It is built by confidence and skill.

@@In order to be a great leader that has lasting impact and longevity, we must focus on our character before our competency.@@ 

Like Donnie Smith and the executive team at Tyson’s Foods, we must think of ourselves like a peach tree whose flourishing is dependent upon the effectiveness of its root structure or it’s substructure. 

The stronger the roots, the greater the stress and trials you will be able to withstand when they come. There’s is certainty that trouble will come, it’s just a matter of when, which we can’t predict.

Here are some questions that you should constantly be asking to assess the strength of your substructure:

How firm is my foundation?

How well am I taking care of/investing in myself?

How much margin do I have built into my schedule?

How disciplined am I with my time?

Am I spending quality time with loved ones, great friends, and an accepting community?

If you place a priority on uncovering and tweaking the results you find, the rest will take care of itself.

@@The greatest innovators realize the role of the roots.@@

This post is the third installment of the Greatest Innovators Series, where we study and analyze the greatest innovators – both brands and people – to uncover what separates the good ones from the greats.

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