Corporate musings

Banyan Tree Or Oak Tree Leadership ?


I was discussing a particularly well known leader with a colleague at work and it suddenly dawned on me that this leader had not allowed a single person to grow under him. We discussed our respective favorite leaders and all of them had several stories of helping their team members grow. Interesting.

So I thought of comparing the two types of leadership – one like the Banyan Tree that doesn’t let anything grow underneath it and the other like the Oak that allows just enough sunlight and shade for the coffee shrubs to blossom. The Banyan Tree leader has strong roots in the organization, is respected, and has some functional expertise even, may even be a really nice person, but just lacks the ability to develop other people or the ability to grow them. Watch such leaders, they don’t intend to do harm but end up damaging the fabric of the team for the long term. Have noticed that these leaders end up having a coterie of followers, they don’t create strong teams that do well with or without them. These leaders will have a very poor succession plan, actually they pay just lip service to succession and they are uncomfortable with a lot of attention or scrutiny. There wouldn’t be much clarity in their thoughts and they will shift their position frequently. Such leaders when they reach the very top, think always at a rarefied height and are unable to explain their thoughts in simple words. They are good to deal with crises, because they are well entrenched, do not have the need to prove anything, and people just toe the line due to hierarchy or age. They can never be one of you, but can be very protective and results focussed. They may appear fearless, even if they are shivering inside … Useful trait. I guess you get the picture.

Let me describe what I call the Oak Tree leader – they have many people who thank them for helping them grow. All across the organization they have a lot of goodwill and genuine respect. Ideas can bounce all around them, they go out of their way to help others, have no hierarchical thoughts and people willingly follow them. They can be seen around coffee machines, lunches and social events prodding and pushing people to do their best – not in the limelight, but comfortable in the limelight too. They have clarity of thought and are happy to incorporate other ideas. They build great teams, people talk of them fondly and they move out when people still say “why” not when they say “atlast”. They have their own set of challenges but the good usually outweighs the bad. They might have some coterie around them sometimes, but usually it’s a bunch of colleagues who call a spade, a spade and can freely express themselves. Succession plans will be robust and the organization they leave continues to perform as well or better. These leaders are building for the future. It’s important to them and they are constantly enabling it.

Both the Banyan and Oak trees are tall and needed for their respective qualities – just help the two types of leaders to compensate for qualities they don’t possess. It takes all kinds of trees to make the jungle and that’s what the corporate world is – just be sure that if it’s a tropical forest or a rainforest or just a copse of trees and accordingly change the type of leaders you have.

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