To Plant a Walnut Tree: a review for everyone by Viv Chitty

I am just about to spend the day with Trevor Waldock and some other colleagues next week to discuss what lies beyond leadership. In my preparation I have read one of Trevor’s books (he has written many including The 18 Challenges of Leadership), To Plant a Walnut Tree. And no, I am not biased because I know him – I genuinely loved this book. It is written as a story – describing Trevor’s personal journey of discovery regarding the issue of sharing wisdom, independent leadership and how to leave a ‘fruitful’ legacy. A legacy (something that he calls eldership) which is based on interest beyond the self…

.. taking the seed of a life that has been lived in a way that develops the whole of .. who one is .. and planting that wisdom somewhere else – in a person, in a family, in a team, in a community, in a nation, in the world.

Sharing wisdom

And that wisdom can be of use in so many ways: challenging duality and polarisation (and goodness don’t we need that at the moment?); offering independent judgement; seeing goodness in people with faith in what they might become; truly and deeply listening so that wisdom emerges; encouraging thinking that is wider and has a more long-term perspective; offering challenge and so on.

The questions for leadership – the third tier of progression

Where organisations are concerned, Trevor fundamentally questions how progression is usually thought about within organisations and suggests bringing in a third tier that can be aspired to – giving us 1) management, 2) leadership and 3) eldership: eldership not being related to age but to leadership that is independent and provides and enables wisdom. With eldership being on the training and development agenda from an early stage to raise horizons and give aspirational challenge, highlighting the value of the journey towards eldership with all its components.

The progression to eldership at whatever age

Trevor then explores in detail what people will be doing, or have done, in order to progress to be able to work in this way, in the way of an elder, at whatever age. Although it is better to read about this in Trevor’s own words, not mine, this includes having the skills and ability to offer the necessary special qualities referred to above, as well as having led people or a venture. They will have learnt from difficult personal life experiences, gone on their own personal journey (inner, outward and upward which includes addressing their own patterns of thought and behaviour, ending those that aren’t wanted and forming those that are). And they will have developed a unique ‘inner compass’ based on their own values and principles.

Leaving a legacy including our own

Trevor’s writing addresses the question of what lies beyond leadership and the challenge that ‘leadership has lost its heart’. How do we work with our clients who chose to look beyond leadership, and also how do we do this work ourselves, so more of us leave a legacy?

And what might our own walnut trees be? And what might they grow in to, maybe long after we have gone?