The NATURE of Leadership Development (blog 1 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

Leadership is very much like a growing tree. Confused? See what I mean here:

As a forester, I often use analogies and metaphors from my natural resources background to make points about leadership, teamwork and change. For example, the growth of a tree provides a useful analogy for what leaders need to think about and do in their own growth and development even if no one else is helping them to do it, and these factors involves your roots, rings and branches. 

Roots – A mature leader has deep roots in her values, strengths and priorities.
Rings – A successful leader never stops adding knowledge, skills and abilities.
Branches – A wise leader branches out their experience and perspectives. 

The Longleaf Pine 
As a leader, you will need strength to stand up for your ideas, resilience to bounce back from mistakes and failures as you learn, and perseverance to weather the inevitable criticism and rough spots. 

The longleaf pine is a good example of a tree with these qualities, and it has developed a particularly unique and hardy biology that helps it survive. Longleaf pines are native to sandy, well-drained soils in the Southeastern United States, and they often grow in large “savannahs” created by wildfire. What’s even more unique about this tree – that makes it a good analogy for leadership development – is how it spends its early years and how this enables the tree to thrive. 

Specifically, the longleaf spends it’s first 5-12 years in something called the “grass stage,” where it resembles an ankle-high, grassy bush that is extremely resistant to wildfire and other threats. While it appears largely dormant during these early years, it is actually very busy growing a deep taproot, which reaches 7-10 feet in length, much longer and deeper than other trees in this family. After this developmental period when it is establishing a strong root system to nourish the tree and anchor it in loose soils against the inevitable winds, the tree grows very fast, tall and large in diameter. 

Growing your leadership roots 

When organizations were stable and changing less dramatically and often, leaders were developed slowly and methodically.

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