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All About You: Be like a tree

Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Trees are amazing. I regularly walk past an awe-inspiring northern red oak. It’s over 100 feet tall, with dozens of beautiful branches.

During winter, several bird and squirrel nests are visible on those branches. From woodpeckers to fungi, the variety and amount of life the tree supports is wonderful. It’s a valuable lesson.

I try to be like a tree. I want to help others and support people. As a safety pro, I have plenty of opportunities to do that. You do, too.

Here’s how you can be like a tree at work and at home.

Be pleasant to others

Make it a point to be pleasant. If you had a bad day at work and are still feeling miserable when you get home, it may take some effort to avoid passing that negative energy to your partner or others. But, as with every other social skill, purposeful practice can help.

I try to pay attention to how I respond when someone says or does something that irritates me. Often, I stay quiet and purposefully smile.

I also try to be humorous at work and when I’m out and about. Not to the point of being ridiculous, but enough to make people interacting with me smile. When I show up on a construction site, for example, I want the crew to talk favorably about me when I leave, even if I must ask them to change something they’re doing. Like a tree provides pleasant shade, I want to be a person who boosts people’s positive emotions.

It takes a conscious effort to be pleasant at work regularly, especially when things are going awry. Walking into a root-cause meeting about a serious incident when everybody in the room is stern and reserved is challenging. Being the only person with a pleasant demeanor takes courage and self-awareness. But you can do it, and it’ll be helpful.

Share your wisdom

I’m listening to an audiobook entitled “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. I can’t recommend it highly enough if you like science books about nature.

One thing I’ve learned from the book is that big ole trees help saplings in various ways. Likewise, those of us who have been in the safety field for a while should help people who are beginning their journey as safety pros.

Anybody who’s new to the industry you work in can benefit from your advice. When I returned to the workforce in 2021, my co-workers’ help was vital. So many things had changed and, indeed, I was frightened. But I was lifted by other (mostly younger) colleagues who came to my aid. It was a heartwarming experience, and it reinforced my determination to help others in turn.

Feed yourself

Trees give, but they also must take care to stay alive. Lesson: Feed yourself with new information so you can grow as a person. I don’t want to stagnate, even though I’m a seasoned tree. My bark and roots may have been around a while, but I want to expand my influence and abilities. For myself, of course, but also so I can help others.

Be thrilled about learning new things. I’m giving a talk this month to a group of folks who handle the luggage and do other support functions at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. I’m incredibly excited to learn about what happens behind the scenes there. Giving supports other people, but you need to care for yourself so you can keep giving.

One life lesson that has stayed with me for many years and has helped me be successful as a professional speaker and human in general is that the more you support other people, the happier you’ll be and the more others will seek your shade and nourishment.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at

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