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Bonsai Leadership

By April 18, 2012February 6th, 2014Leadership

The Karate Kid movie made bonsai trees popular in America. In this 1984 movie, Mr. Miyagi teaches a young boy Karate through unusual methods and the famous phrase “wax on, wax off.” Mr. Miyagi also grew bonsai trees, a curious looking botanical oddity.

Bonsai trees, contrary to popular belief, result from restraining normal trees causing them to grow small. The process appears backward from growing other plants and tress. You place the tree in a smaller pot, trim the roots, trim the trunk and limbs, and intentionally restrict it’s growth. Most trees tower over us providing shade. But this very old maple tree shows beauty with every detail in miniature form—but before the process, it had the potential to grow to be a normal maple tree.

The process is brutal on the trees—the trees’ natural innate tendency is to stretch its base and reach for the stars (actually the sun) but the bonsai process intentionally restricts the tree. A person stunts the growth with cords, cables, and copper ties to shape the pattern of growth. The owner manages the limb development with a pair of pruning sheers.

A normal tree (not a bonsai) full grown, prevents a person from pruning every limb and every detail like one might with a small bonsai tree. Leaders may act like a bonsai tree owner and restrict the growth of the organization. They do so by attempting to control every detail. This kind of control requires organizations to stay small. In fact, growth will be stunted or restricted by this bonsai style of leadership. Bonsai leadership is an oxymoron.



Ron Hunter

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