Motivation in Arboriculture: Inspiration

Stemming from an article I penned previously for TCI Magazine, “Competence in Arboriculture: Motivation” (TCI, May 2021), this article builds upon strategies and tactics discussed in that article, as well as focuses on what it means to motivate our folks or, more important, to “inspire” them. I’d like to take you on a journey as I share some of the things I’ve learned throughout my career, as well as some of the experiences that compelled me to address this issue.

Motivation is defined as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way,” and it is often referred to as “influencing others toward a common goal.” One definition of inspiration is “a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation.” Inspiration is usually associated with persons who compel others to do or be better, not by what they say or how they lead, but rather by the life they live.

What I share here is not scientific data, just observation and things I have gathered through numerous job fields and various titles, roles and responsibilities throughout my career. These are influenced by various leadership books, seminars and formal trainings I’ve had the privilege of attending. My career has spanned food service, heavy-equipment operation, sporting-goods sales, firefighting/EMS and technical , as well as my 15 years in arboriculture. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from some incredible mentors who have shown me examples of how to strive. I also have had some not-so-good examples, and those have guided me as well.

Currently, I am a safety supervisor for Wright Tree Service, a utility arborist company based in West Des Moines, Iowa. In my position, I am responsible for the development and implementation of safety, education and training for more than 6,000 operations staff.

Inspirational traits in an individual include being:

  • disciplined;
  • an active listener;
  • self-motivated;
  • self-sacrificing; and
  • empathetic.

Let’s take a look at each of these traits.


Discipline can be defined as “controlled behavior resulting from self-control or obedience.” For me, discipline means doing things you hate as if you enjoy them. It also means doing what needs to be done, regardless of whether someone is watching.

As leaders, we are often tasked with imposing discipline on our team members, typically in the form of punishment. Maybe it’s because I always struggle with having the hard conversations with folks, but I rarely find success in handing out punishment. It wasn’t until I just focused on improving myself that I found success around me. A great quote I keep with me is, “Imposed discipline does not work, self-imposed discipline does.” (Dave Burke, Jocko Podcast)

In arboriculture, to me that means not harping on someone for not dragging as much brush as I think they should. Rather, I try to outdo myself, each time. If other people see me working hard, they are far more likely to do the same, rather than me telling them to do so.

Active listener

Being an active listener means “the practice of engaging closely with what a speaker is saying and indicating understanding, typically by asking relevant questions, using gestures and summarizing.” This may have been one of my most challenging traits to improve upon. Perhaps my ego got in the way, or I didn’t want to be viewed as weak (again, ego).

For so many of us, there is a stark difference between “hearing” and “listening.” When I hear someone, I am present in their conversation. But when I listen, I hear the other with an intent to understand, not to respond. Too many times in the past, I would certainly hear, but it was only to let the other person finish so I could have a rebuttal.

In arboriculture, communication is paramount to the success and safety of our crew members. One of my greatest victories as a leader came because of one of my hardest days. One day, after getting back to the office from a long day of commercial tree pruning, a sometimes-tedious task of pole pruning what seems like hundreds of street trees for a condo complex, I sat in my office putting together the production numbers for the day. When one of my team members came in and closed the door, a lump formed in my throat as I gazed my attention to him and he asked, “Can I talk to you?”

He then told me, “I think you’re lazy. You’re always on your phone and you seem to be off somewhere else when the team needs you.”

As if serendipitous, the week prior I had listened to a podcast about being an active listener. Thank goodness, because the old me would have said, “Do you have any idea how many behind-the-scenes tasks need to be completed to finish these projects?!” Or “I have to keep track of our progress and decide where the group is going next; I have to be on the phone to do that!” Or any other random excuse that would have fallen on deaf ears.

Rather, my response was, “You are right. I am on my phone too much. I do not have an answer for you now, but can I come back to you when I am more prepared?”

After some soul searching, and many talks with one of my mentors, I came back. “I’m sorry that I have given you that impression. Thank you for bringing it up. I am going to make it a point to correct that. When we have these bigger projects, can you please help me manage the computer tasks so I may help the crew more?”

Instead of waiting for him to stop and then defending myself, I was able to understand his side of the story and offer him ownership in the problem. Since that day, our work relationship has been incredible.


Self-motivation is defined as “motivated to do or achieve something because of one’s own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others.” One of the many challenges our trade faces is that there are few barriers to entry. We all know, unfortunately, that you only need a chain saw and a pickup truck and you can call yourself a tree worker. While a lack of credentials to get started may create its own hazards, there is also no set pathway for advancement. In this industry, as in much of life, if you want something, you must go out and get it.

For so many of us, it can seem like there are not many options to gain knowledge or training. This is true whether it be in a large corporation, where you might feel like just a number, or a small company, where there simply isn’t enough money to pay for those types of services. I challenge you to find creative solutions to these problems. Seek out other companies to do joint training, volunteer at climbing competitions or take as many free online educational classes as you can find. Look at it as an investment in yourself. Take every opportunity to advance yourself.


Self-sacrifice, perhaps one of the more challenging inspirational traits of late, at least in societal concerns, is putting others before oneself. All too often we hear of folks who put their own self-interest before that of the greater good. This is known as thinking “tactically,” compared to thinking “strategically.” That is, thinking or planning in the short term because it benefits me, as opposed to thinking for the long term and what will benefit everyone.

Perhaps having long-range goals will help our leaders in self-sacrifice. One of my biggest career aspirations is to have the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), the governing body for rules and regulations for fire departments, have aerial rescue in trees as a recognized rescue.

Long-range goals allow me to not get hung up on the small things, and to sacrifice what may be deemed as a benefit to me in the short term for what may benefit all down the road, myself included.


Simply put, empathy is placing yourself in someone else’s shoes, of having a better understanding of what it’s like to walk a mile in their steps or from their perspective. One of my most humbling experiences as a leader was while working with two amazing young women. They may not know it, because I’ve never told them, but they’ve had the biggest impact on me as a leader.

For so long, when building crews and scheduling work, I would purposely put them on easier work. I felt an unnecessary need to “protect” them, though not because I felt they could not do the work. I didn’t know that was a problem until one of them became so frustrated with me that she spoke up to me in front of our boss, saying she thought I was coddling her. And, in reality, I was. I never thought to ask if she wanted harder tasks or to challenge her. Afterward, she did the work and crushed it, gracefully as always. She has since gone on to be a social-media giant, and is doing amazing things in her own right. She has since become an inspiration to me.


In closing, it’s always better to inspire than compel. Inspire is defined as “filling someone with the urge or ability to feel or do something, especially something creative.” Compel is defined as “to force or oblige someone to do something.” It seems most appropriate in physically taxing trades like arboriculture, when we try to force compliance or obedience, that leaders are faced with much resistance. In my personal experience, when I focus on bringing all my teammates along the path to improvement together, I have much better results.

What will you do differently tomorrow to inspire those around you?

Evan Beck, CTSP, is an ISA Certified Arborist, a SPRAT Level 1 Technician and a safety supervisor with the Safety, Education and Training (SET) Team at Wright Tree Service, a 45-year TCIA member company based in West Des Moines

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