The Banyan Tree or The Banana Tree… What Type of Leader are You?

A Leadership Lesson from the Late Dr. Paul Hiebert

I had the honor of getting to know Dr. Hiebert through his daughter, Dr. Eloise Hiebert-Meneses, a brilliant anthropology professor at Eastern, my dear friend and YaYa sister.  I had a number of delightful conversations with Dr. Hiebert over many years.  Anthropology, international development, his family, his missionary years in India, concerns over short-term missions were just some the subjects we covered… I cannot recall, however, ever having a conversation on the topic of leadership, funny eh?

Eloise recently reminded me of one of his favorite leadership lessons. The anniversary of his passing to Glory is coming up in March and I can’t think of a better way to start this blog about Peculiar Leadership.

The Banyan Tree and the Banana Tree – what type of leader are you?

The Banyan Tree grows tall and strong by putting down roots from its branches… (  The trees’ appearance definitely commands attention but by its very presence, nothing can grow underneath.  Its greatness eclipses the necessary elements getting to those around it.

The Banana Tree doesn’t achieve the grand heights of other trees, but achieves a greater reach by spreading seeds for the growth of lots of other banana trees around it.  Its very nature is to replicate itself as much as possible. (  My students know how much I love metaphors, particularly around leadership and these two provide great lessons.

Are you a leader, like the Banyan tree, whose presence commands great attention, but who remains the center of a rather empty forest, where few, if any, other leaders are able to rise up around you?

Or are you a leader whose very existence is about planting and growing many other leaders?  Many of us would consider that the very essence of what good leadership is… raising up other leaders.

Banana Tree Leadership:

1.  Know the Source of your leadership – you are a steward, not an owner, for such a time as this.  Matthew 20:25-26

2.  Realize that the people you are called to serve, the ones you’ll have to give an account for some day, may be the ones that co-labor with you in the day-to-day ministry.

3.  See your team’s unique gifts and foster an environment where they get to use them, allowing for risks, allowing for mistakes – they become teachable moments.

4.  Recognize everyone, including you, has the ability and responsibility to lead and to follow and should exercise both roles regularly.

5.  Make sure that the leadership of everyone around you gets recognized as such – and watch the banana grove spread.

Leadership development does not happen by mere observation or osmosis, it happens through intentionality which first comes from a desire to see others around you for their leadership potential, help them see it themselves, and, like the Banana tree, live and act in such a way to cultivate that potential into something strong and flourishing… and spreading leadership even further.

Thanks, Dr. Hiebert for living a life that has spouted a thousand Banana Trees, and for being a most peculiar leader (1Peter 2:9).

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”  1 Peter 2:9, American King James

Next up:  Leadership and Hope

BAB: 12/12


About Dr. Beth A. Birmingham

Follower of Jesus, peculiar at times, but not always in the good biblical sense of the word, professor of leadership and international development, walking with people and organizations who end poverty, fight injustice and stand with the vulnerable... a rockin' good group of people!

Posted on December 3, 2012, in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. A profound comparison! Thanks for sharing your insight. Your writing paused me to look at myself. By the way, my father got to know Dr. Hiebert at an international conference in Hong Kong and has talked about Dr. Hiebert’s impact on my dad time to time. I believe that my dad bought a book written by him, titled LEAD ON (I believe). Later I found about his connection to our own Eloise. What a delight!

  2. Zemedkun Habtyimer

    Wow! I am astonished with your metaphor, banyan tree Vs banana tree. It made me note that being a great professional leader does not always guarantee an impact. Replication and ‘reproduction’ requires willingness to live sacrificial life for the sake of sharing ones self and ones owning. I viewed a banyan tree from the internet and said to myself “I can be a great leader that is looked up on and admired, but end up having nothing to share to those who look upon me. I would certainly want to become a banana tree that shares its roots to produce other bananas through sacrificial sharing of all the resources it possesses (soil nutrients, water and nutrients from its own stock)

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