Leadership Lessons from the Bamboo Tree

A number of years ago, on a trip to Trinidad, the country of my birth, we drove through an area called The Bamboo Cathedral. Along the beautiful and breathtaking route, the 150 year old ruins of St. Chad’s Church is set back from the road, surrounded by towering stalks of bamboo, arching high over top, enveloping the faded white walls into a lush see of deep green. “What if leadership was like this bamboo forest- creating a beautiful welcoming oases that captivated attention and stirs imagination?

Leadership isn’t a title, role or a bigger paycheque. Yet, these still remain key incentives that can prevent a company or organization from achieving its purpose. What alternatives are there? 


To learn from the bamboo tree, leadership development often occurs unseen. The Chinese Bamboo Tree can grow to heights over 90 feet tall in just a matter of weeks. However, the seeds germinate in the ground for 5 years!  Throughout those 5 years, regular watering  and care for the soil is vital.  A lack of care in the development phase prevents the eventual growth.  


Patience and perseverance, like seeds that are being prepared for to fulfill its future purpose,  are two virtues necessary to cultivate growth that will rise in a timely and impactful manner.  What barriers exist to your development as leader? 


“Without a practical plan for turning purpose into action, for infusing every  

thought, behavior, and interaction with it, leaders are limiting themselves and 

their organizations.” (p.32)


This quote from “The Invisible Leader: Transform Your Life, Work, and Organization with the Power of Authentic Purpose” by Zach Mercurio helps to further the importance of developing patience and perseverance in the pursuit of purpose. Often we look to add new influence or activity without reducing or eliminating the influences that will detract from our over-arching purpose.  Virtue development is unseen or invisible yet vital to allow purpose to break through like bamboo shoots. 


Forbearance is one such virtue. Forbearance is defined as the quality of being patient and being able to forgive someone or control yourself in a difficult situation. It’s not easy and takes time and attention to develop. 


The Chinese bamboo tree, during the unseen first five years, is spreading and deepening its roots, in preparation for its season of growth.  These are not idle years, or wasted years, rather they are indispensable to sustaining future growth.  Patience and perseverance are necessary and are found within the virtue of forbearance. 


Forbearance, in leadership, requires a gentleness toward others, knowing how to handle differing temperaments and inevitable disappointments when dealing with the lives of others. The virtue of forbearance really implies the necessity to avoid impulse reaction to people or circumstances. Instead, learning to respond with the grace, particularly in a culture where needs and preferences change so rapidly. In contrast to those rapid changes, the virtue of forbearance also brings the characteristic of perseverance into play, as the leader adjusts the from a focus on programs and advancement of bottom line agendas, in order to focus on the needs of those among whom they serve and for whom they exist to serve. 


Listening allows us to take a posture of humility before others and our preconceptions, it demonstrates honour and respect. The virtue of forbearance is essential in the shaping of character necessary to listen and learn in all kinds of matters, particularly from those with differing viewpoints. Our integrity is sustained and our credibility in leadership grows as we develop our capacity to listen. Too often we listen in order to respond or defend, rather than listening that leads to learning. Therefore, part of forbearance, is the ability to ask question. Questions demonstrate interest in the other person and their perspective. They communicate a willingness to be taught and can serve to empower another, as well as lend itself to collaborative decision making, by placing the one asking into the position of a listener.


If we believe that God is at work in our communities, then our leadership should first demonstrate Christ-like humility through listening. Jesus’ ability to come along others, asking questions with a desire to learn their perspective, didn’t come at the expense of his purpose, it strengthened his purpose.  Only as we enter the complexity of listening, both to our God (through His Word and in prayer), to our community, and to our congregation, can the discovery be made of places and people with whom He desires us to work, live and play among. To confine our listening to familiar and like-minded settings hinders the fulfilling of the greater purpose to which we’ve been called to serve as leaders. 


“We are wired to search for meaning, so designing environments that foster meaning 

in organizations is more than just a good idea for modern leaders. I argue it’s a moral 

responsibility and the most important skill leaders can have.” 

                                                                                            (p. 152 – Zach Mercurio)


Creating an environment within your organization for listening can be an unseen virtue that will yield advancement of your purpose over the course of time.  As you model the virtue of forbearance through listening, others will follow, and in so doing, like the bamboo cathedral, you will develop a culture of growth that is expanding, captivating, inviting and inspiring, and make it seem like it’s been there all along. 


·      What are the obstacles to developing patience and perseverance in your character as a leader?

·      As you reflect on your leadership journey, who made an impact on your life by their willingness to listen to you?  How did that impact your development?

·      As you consider those around you, who could benefit from someone who is willing to listen?