A Blog by John Bossong

5 Leadership Trees Every Leader Needs To Plant

A Chinese proverb states “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is today.”  You can’t do anything about 20 years ago.  Are you ready to plant your leadership trees?

Today is different.  You can do something about today.   You can create the next 20 years.

A good decision today (now) is better than a great decision later.  You just need to commit to it and drive forward.   Do something.   Start.  Until you decide the next 20 years can’t get started.

What tree can you plant today?

Forget The Past

Everyone has a 20 years ago.   The deal you didn’t do.  The risk you didn’t take.  The relationship you didn’t put enough time in.  The failure you wouldn’t let happen.  The degree you earned but the education you missed.   The leadership opportunity you passed up.  The family events you missed to climb the ladder.

Today’s 20-years ago is now 6 months, 1year, 2 years and 5 years.  Change is exponentially faster.  It’s complex.  The key is to simplify it.  Make sense of it.

Five years ago Twitter and Facebook were nothing.  The tree grew.   You can focus on the opportunities you’ve missed or you can plant today.

Don’t let your past mistakes or missed opportunities dominate you.  Don’t be trapped in the past or by it.

What trees do you need to plant today?

5 Leadership Trees You Need To Plant

#1 Self-Leadership

This is a great tree.  You may be 25 or  55.  It doesn’t matter.  Cultivate this tree.  Plant it.  Water it every day.  Feed it.  Nurture it.  Invest in yourself.  The return is huge.  Leadership starts here.  It’s the foundation.  Selt-mastery is where leadership starts.

#2 Impact

This tree makes a difference.  Influence someone every day.  Make an impact.  Be a difference maker.  The people you lead are always watching.  It doesn’t matter what level you lead at.  The impact tree doesn’t care about titles or positions.  It cares about character, integrity and influence.  Plant this tree today.

#3 Servant

The servant tree is one every leader needs to plant.  Leaders serve.  If you don’t serve you don’t lead.  You control, dictate, intimidate or command but you don’t lead.  Leaders serve with humility.

#4 Knowledge

What are you reading?  Leaders are always learning and growing.   Sit with this tree every day.  Opportunities to get better are everywhere.  Get better at leading and life.  What leadership conferences are you signed up for?  Who is your mentor?  What leadership material are you soaking up?  Leaders learn.

#5 Communication

Leaders are faced with information overload.  The speed of change and information make communication more complex than ever before.

The key is to simplify the complexity.  Sounds difficult and it is.  The great leaders simplify the message and process so everyone understands.

  1. Keep your message simple.
  2. Repeat it a lot.
  3. Alignment.
  4. Keep it real.
  5. Timing.
  6. Don’t assume it’s clear to everyone.

It all starts with you.  Your tree begins today.  Pick a spot and plant it.  Don’t wait.

What tree do you need to work on?


  1. Great post John. If you want to be a leader, start by washing your people’s feet. A good leader earnestly cares about the person who follows and is not too proud to show it. If they know you care, that you are invested in them, they will strive to be better. “I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” Abraham Lincoln

    • Kathy,

      Thanks for your comments and thoughts. Great points. I agree 100% with servant leadership. Specifically from a Christian perspective and how Jesus led. There’s no better way than “to wash the feet” of those you lead. You are absolutely correct. Thanks for the Abraham Lincoln reference, great quote.

      Take care,

  2. Loved this post! Thanks John! Timely indeed.

  3. Great thoughts! What is so interesting to me is that the pursuit of any one of these practices while ignoring the rest would be giving way to a devolved form. Too great a focus on self-leadership gives way to self-centered leadership. Too great a focus on traditional knowledge gives way to a book-smart-not-street-smart leader. Too great a focus on communication could give way to a boasting leader. Each has its devolved form!

    When taken in balance, though, these “trees” create a leader who is well-rounded and effective. Great post, John!

    • Justin,

      Thanks for your comment. You make a great point. If you don’t balance these out and ignore one area too much, it can hurt the effectiveness. Great thoughts! Thanks for reading.

      Take care,

  4. Great metaphor. One of my favorite stories is Martin Luther who said if he was absolutely convinced the world would end tomorrow, he would plant a tree. We must be always planting seeds for ourselves and others.

  5. Each of these 5 trees are important for a leader to know and implement. I think self-leadership is the most important and valuable. If we can’t lead our self’s well we won’t be able to effectively lead others. Great post!

  6. As an educator this was profound. We sometimes forget that we are planting seeds and those seeds could possibly grow into something great or something NOT so great. I guess I need to make sure my seed I am planting are worthy to be grown.

  7. Michael Droske says:

    John -
    I love this post. The five “trees” you’ve encouraged all of us to plant are a great beginning to a forest of quality leadership characteristics. Every forest begins with a few saplings.
    Thanks, Michael

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