Celebrating life, Leaving a legacy

One day after New Year ’s Day 2020, I was at a very meaningful event, called a “Celebration”. It was the celebration of the life of Ian Walton, a client of mine after he lost his battle against cancer. Being a phenomenal human being, he was dearly loved by his family and friends and respected by many for his humility, caring personality, wisdom and knowledge. As the owner and CEO of a successful apple farm, he also lived a healthy life full of adventure, sport and many journeys. Until a few months ago his sickness and death would have been totally unexpected. Although saddened by our loss, we could also gratefully celebrate a full life well lived.

In June 2019 Ian phoned me to help him accelerating the execution of his succession planning. In a matter of factly way, he also informed me about his diagnosis of cancer. We decided to take a sober approach to “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. We got the team of eight together and started a journey of teambuilding, empowering and professional upskilling. Intuitively everyone took the process seriously, stepped into higher levels of responsibility, and we saw an unlocking of potential and growth. Ian attended the training workshops and his personal one on one coaching sessions with me until shortly before his death. Within 4 months Ian expressed his satisfaction and gratefulness that the team, with the necessary outside help, is ready to run the farm successfully. He did this not randomly, but in his typical well-calculated way of doing.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from this journey. Let me start with a few life lessons and then a few lessons about organisational and business growth. Life lessons:

  • Life is not a solo journey. The deeper, better and the more you relate, especially to those close to you, the more meaningful it is. At the celebration of his life, 99% of the photos shown on the screen were of Ian and other people at events, not of him working or farming. And his family was surrounded and supported by so many wonderful people.
  • Life is not about the amount of years you can manage to spend on planet earth, but about who you are and become (character) during those years. Your character determines how you live and enjoy your life, and also how you will be remembered.

And then Organisational Growth lessons learned with the management team:

  • Openness and transparency: Talking about the elephants in the room was difficult, but as clarity and openess developed, and vagueness got removed, the levels of motivation and buy-in increased.
  • Teamwork makes the dream work: We were different people of different levels of education and at times language was really a big issue. The team learned how to trust and depend on each other more, and to align their efforts. They are still on a journey, but determined to be successful together.
  • Empowerment & Stepping up: Empowerment should only increase as competence and trustworthiness increase. Intentionally encouraging others to think for themselves, making their own decisions can be tough, especially if the farm or business is so close to your heart and you have been leading and managing it for so many years. Ian made made that decision, and he reaped the fruit. The team stepped up, and in spite of some mistakes here and there, managed to grow in their roles.

During his life Ian was mostly conservative in his decision-making processes. You might say “had he dared more, he could have achieved more”, and you may be right. On the other hand, maybe the fact that was cautious and calculated in his decision-making got him his success. The truth is that every one of us should find a way to do both: calculate and risk. So, the lesson that I take from this is: as far as possible, never risk blindly, but be willing to risk. Every new orchard he planted was a risk, so was every harvest they prepared for and harvested.

Let me close with this: How would you like to be remembered? What can you do in 2020 to grow into that? What calculated risks do you need to take? Who do you need to help you?