Monday, September 1, 2014

5 Leadership Lessons Fig Trees Can Teach Us

Fig Tree in the Desert

While I was having fun playing with the concepts behind 9 Ways to Become a Digital Nomad, I started to briefly explore the benefits of figs, "cultivated since ancient times," which I imagined are able to grow in extreme conditions given they are found in the Middle East.

Consider this excerpt from a Wikipedia entry:
The common fig tree has been cultivated since ancient times and grows wild in dry and sunny areas, with deep and fresh soil; also in rocky areas, from sea level to 1,700 meters. It prefers light and medium soils, requires well-drained soil, and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Like all fig trees, Ficus carica requires wasp pollination of a particular species of wasp (Blastophaga psenes) to produce seeds. The plant can tolerate seasonal drought, and the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean climate is especially suitable for the plant. Situated in a favorable habitat, old specimens when mature can reach a considerable size and form a large dense shade tree. Its aggressive root system precludes its use in many urban areas of cities, but in nature helps the plant to take root in the most inhospitable areas...The fig tree, with the water, cools the environment in hot places, creating a fresh and pleasant habitat for many animals that take shelter in its shade in the times of intense heat.
What could one learn from a fig tree? Quite a bit:

Fig #1 - Go Deep with Your Roots: If you are going to learn in arid spaces, which some characterize as inhospitable schools, you have to be aggressive and have a deep root system. Ever walk into a school system or organization that simply rejects your message or your approach to living? I've seen it often in colleagues who are depressed because their organization isn't supportive. Fortunately, they have already, or begin to build, an extensive network of fellow learners online that can support them.

This "deep root system" is diverse and doesn't rely on nourishment from their workplace, but rather, is able to sustain them and slake their thirst for personal reward and commitment in spite of drought. An added benefit is that the deeper and richer the roots you have, the more value you are to the organization, even when it may be doing its level best to slash and burn your initiatives.

Fig #2 - Learn to Spread Your Ideas In Spite of the Stings: Learn from those who might sting you a la fig's wasp pollination. In a similar vein as Fig #1, how do you share your ideas with others in a tough environment? Propagating your perspectives, seeds of ideas, to others in your environment can seem crazy when you have to rely on waspish partners. Yet, it is possible to adapt and find ways for people you wouldn't normally associate with to share ideas.

Fig #3 - Share Your Fruit: As you grow, don't be afraid to cast your shade and fruit to others in tough times. This one seems pretty obvious, but can be a tough one. In the midst of trouble, the desire is to isolate and withhold your goodies (e.g. figs, shade) from others. But then, we are all counselled to love our enemies, to do good to those who don't appreciate us. The reason for that is that being fruitful is a function of who we are, not something we choose to withhold or give. If you hold back, the only one you really hurt is yourself at first. Over the long run, leafy fig trees offer the promise of fruit to all who see them. Deliver on that promise to all who pass by.

Fig #4 - Be Cool: Cool the environment around you so you can improve the situation. In work, and in life, situations can become super-heated by those who generate heat (never happy whiners who prefer to complain, criticize without doing anything), reflect heat (gossipers), or those who sap your resources without giving back to the learning ecology (lurkers who don't blog or share what they're learning). Instead, as a fig tree, you are called to tap into deep sources of nourishment that others cannot, and use that as a way to bring shade to cool.

Fig #5 - Thrive on What Burns Others: Seek the sun so you won't wither and die, but rather, thrive in tough locales. If you're going to thrive in the desert, it makes sense that you can take advantage of the greatest resource available--the hot, burning sun who provides light and energy. If you can't, then you probably need to move on to a more hospitable environment. A fig tree prospers in the light of the sun.
Image Source

These are only a few, small figs of learning from the Leadership Fig Tree. What figs can you spot nestled amidst the branches?

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1 comment:

Lucie deLaBruere said...

Adding this to my ed tech leadership course reading lost. Love metaphors that help us organize gems like this. Thanks Miguel

Genuine Leadership #4: Gratitude