‘Everything begins and ends with leadership’, John Maxwell will always say. Leadership is the energy and direction needed to change a state (not territory). Leader or follower? Most people would not choose to be followers when given the opportunity of choice for either of the two. The reason is because a leader is seen as the one with all the privileges of power, authority, and resources, and determines who gets what and when; what should or should not be done. But I bet you, if we all know the burden of leadership – pain, betrayal, self-denial, frustration, sacrifice, deprivation, and persecution – most of us would choose over and over again to be followers.
Three nights ago, there was a fracas in my neighborhood that would have ended in fatality but for our timely intervention to disarm and pacify the warring parties. Today I was invited by the Elders Council to recount as an eyewitness what led to the fight as it involved the leader of my neighbourhood and a neighbor. An aphorism in my testament caught my fancy. It goes thus, ‘A leader should be like a tree that is not easily irritated with events around it.’
A tree?! Yes. What leadership qualities can man learn from a mute and immovable plant? A lot. Beyond human models on leadership, man has long admired, conceptualized, and adopted desirable leadership characteristics of outstanding creatures like the ants, the eagle, and the lion to name a few but rarely on plants.
Trees are all around us and have been resourceful to man and animals alike. But aside the benefits we draw from them, have we ever taken time to see the leader in them? I have.
As human leaders we try to be as organized and industrious like ants; visionary, fearless, tenacious, nurturing of the young, and high flying like an eagle; and brave, protective, willing to fight, hunt, loners like a lion. But we seldom wish to adopt the traits of a tree such as being slow to anger, stability, availability, having zero bias, and generosity.
Whenever I am outdoors, I indulge in watching the activities of creatures around the Neem trees (Dongoyaro trees) in the middle of my street, it always fascinates me. I notice how a variety of bird species come in the day to feed on its figs and tweet to themselves on the branches. At night, bats are the guests, and like their diurnal cousins, they draw nourishment from the fruits. With the arrival of a different season, another species come to life. Man too is not left out in enjoying the generosity of the trees by taking refuge from the malicious sun.
But for a tree to be able to accommodate and refresh all of these creatures, there are obvious costs. I have been able to identify three of them.
Cleaning Up the Mess Alone
A tree is always messed up by lots of bird sh*t and abandoned nets. The culprits always never bother to clean up or show appreciation. In the work of a leader, mess are certain. They come in various ways of scandals, inefficiencies, failure, betrayal, and disappointment by the team members and the external environment. The leader in this case may lose his cool if he has anger issues, but the Tree Leader will always keep his stables clean.
The habitat of a tree predisposes it to severe environmental vagaries in different seasons. Unfriendly weather elements of heat and wildfire, rain and storm, cyclone, tremor, etc all come to test the character of the tree. The Tree Leader is able to navigate through all the challenges that come its way. An eagle may avoid storms, floods, and fire by soaring above them, a lion would take refuge by climbing a tree, but a tree must go through them to come out better.
Just as humans take the resources of a tree for granted, a leader is often underappreciated for his sacrifices, but this should not bother him if he has the quality of a tree leader. As a tree surrenders itself to be used by all until he is spent, so also, a leader is expected to ‘die a little’ everyday for others to live.
In conclusion, as leaders, John Maxwell would want us to have 360 degree influence. Bishop T.D. Jakes would want us to mount on eagle’s wings and soar. Myles Munroe would want us to have the attitude of a lion, and I, not in any way equating myself to these greats, would want us to have the leadership spirit of a tree by having natural love for all kinds of people. The tree leader complements other forms of leadership attitudes. It does not attack like the lion and the eagle but provides protection and provisions to all without a grudge.