Diversity leads to a better environment

When I bought my home 28 years ago, I was pleased to find a butternut, also called a white walnut tree, on the property a few feet from the edge of the Little Hocking River. In addition to being a rare tree, it served as the anchor point where I chained my canoe. Each year, it was a treat to gather the light green, sticky hulled nuts just as I did decades before as a child.

In small talk, I mentioned to an older neighbor about my tree and she excitedly told me stories of the butternut trees of her youth and how she loved the nuts. For several years, I gathered the nuts and presented them to her while she giggled in anticipation of the treat.

Eventually, she moved and the next fall the nuts rested where they fell or were swept away by high water. I began the practice of planting the nuts on my hillside hoping to increase their presence on the slope.

To my dismay I began to notice black spots on the trunk of my special tree. Each year I surveyed the limbs and noted another round of lower limbs that had died. A fifteen-foot sapling nearby died more quickly within a couple of seasons of when the black spots appeared. The larger tree clung to life each year, still producing several dozen nuts. Last season no mature nuts could be found.

Most of the butternut trees east of the Mississippi River are dying or have died. A fungus similar to the ones that killed the elms and chestnuts across the eastern United States is the culprit. Originally, I found out about this tree disease in a phone conversation with Marilyn Ortt, who many knew as one of our local botanists. Eventually, all of the butternuts were gone. Now, we are in a similar place with the death of our ash trees.

I believe in diversity in the forests and in teams of people. Forests with a variety of plant species from the underbrush to the treetops are more interesting and sustain a greater number of animal species. Diversity in the workplace results in different perspectives and more creative problem solving. If all of your employees look alike and have had very similar experiences growing up, they tend to think alike and may come up with more common solutions. As your business grows and you add staff, seek an employee who because of his/her background may have a fresh set of eyes and a unique ability to solve problems. This leadership approach may also make your workplace more interesting and attractive for all employees.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s book, “Tons of Stone Above My Head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons,” visit his website, raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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