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The Leadership Tree (TM)


September 14, 2021

By Rowan Van Dyk

The Leadership Tree (TM)

5 min

In a previous book, Why Great Leaders Are Catalysts, you were introduced to the Leadership Flag. This Leadership Flag was an acronym using the word leadership and identified ten (10) characteristics or attributes you had to acquire in order to be great leader.  These were: Lifestyle, Example, Authority, Discipline, Emotional Intelligence, Reasonable, Humble, Sincere, Information and Passion.

Each of these ten attributes had a specific explanation that applied to leadership, and each of these attributes were very relevant to the role of leadership.

Things have changed over the past few years and with the pandemic we have faced and the transition from traditional brick and mortar businesses to mostly working remotely or from home, I felt that it was appropriate to come up with ten new attributes that still aligned to the leadership acronym, but now more applicable to the current times.

Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, tells us in the book of Proverbs chapter 4 verses 5-6 that we should “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you” (NIV)

I have called this the Leadership Tree and the previous chapters form part of the roots of the tree. The following ten attributes represent the fruit the tree bears if you are being a genuine relational leader.



Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.

For instance:

·       We listen to obtain information.

·       We listen to understand.

·       We listen for enjoyment.

·       We listen to learn.

Given all the listening that we do, you would think we'd be good at it! In fact, most of us are not, and research suggests that we only remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear, because firstly we hear what we want to hear and secondly, we listen to gather enough information to formulate an answer. That means that when you talk to your team, peers, or manager, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation.

Turn it around and you will find that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren't hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25-50percent, but what if they're not?

Listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. If you become a better listener, you can improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. You will be in a better position to avoid conflict and misunderstandings, which is necessary for workplace success.

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice "active listening." This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated.

If you want to do this successfully, you will pay attention to the other person very carefully.

You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by what ever else may be going on around you, or by forming incorrect opinions while the other person is still speaking. You cannot allow yourself to get bored or lose focus on what the other person is saying.

Ask yourself if you've ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it's even worthwhile continuing to speak. It feels like talking to a brick wall and it's something you want to avoid.

Acknowledge the speaker with something as simple as a nod of the head or a simple "uh huh." This does not necessarily mean you are agreeing with the person, you are simply indicating that you are listening. Be aware of how you use body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening and paying attention.

While nodding and "uh huhing" it says you're interested, an occasional question or comment to recap what has been said also communicates that you are listening and understanding his message.

If you're finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them. This will reinforce their message and help you to stay focused.

To enhance your active listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what they're saying.

There are some active listening techniques you can use to help you become a more effective listener:

* pay attention

* show you're listening

* provide feedback

*don't judge

*respond appropriately


Empathy, loosely put, refers to you being able to understand the position the other person is in. The proverbial “walking in their shoes” cliché.

Empathy to me means that you understand that no-one, not even yourself, is perfect. People all make mistakes, and if you want to grow your team relationships and develop trust, you will have to allow for failure. I know some people dislike the word failure because it sounds too negative, but remember it is not failure if you learn from it. If you learn the lesson from the mistake, you have gained experience. It is all a question of attitude. Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb, was once asked how it felt to fail1000 times? He replied that he did not fail 1000 times, he simply found 1000ways how not to make a light bulb.

It reminds me of the time my granddaughter was starting to walk. She was about 11 months old and had finally gotten up the courage to attempt the standing position, without holding onto some other object. It was over the Christmas holiday period and the entire family was together.

We were all seated outside around the campfire and suddenly my wife exclaimed “look she is trying to stand” at which we all focused our attention on her.

The first attempt she managed to get up into a bent over forward position before she crashed to the ground. Luckily for her she was wearing a diaper which offered sufficient padding. Over the next few days, she made many attempts, and even when she eventually got into the standing position, it only lasted a while before she lost balance and fell down again. Every attempt was greeted with loud cheering and applause which encouraged her all the more to succeed at this new adventure. By the end of the week, she managed to take her first step – SUCCESS!!

Imagine if after the first failed attempt to stand, my son had suddenly stood up and announced that this baby was useless and did not know how to stand, she should be dismissed, and another baby found or better still get a robot. You would find it ludicrous or even have rebelled against it completely. If this is the case, why then do we not treat our team members the same instead of immediately arranging a disciplinary hearing and dismissing them for non-performance. Why don’t we also allow them to fail a few times but learning from the failure and improving each time? I am sure you did not wake up one morning and suddenly you were the CEO. We all made a few mistakes along the way learning lessons as we went.

Empathy means that you come alongside the person and encourage them to learn from the mistake and do better next time. This works wonders for establishing trust in the leader.

Empathy means you allow them to make mistakes and learn from them



Be aware of your changing environment and adapt quickly. The skill of agility is about enabling everyone’s power and capability to create leaders at all levels and bring out the maximum potential of each person on the team.

Agile leadership is about how you see the world and relate to the people and situations around you. Agile leaders take their egos out of the way of working with others and they enable and stimulate great collaboration. 

Agile leaders

·       develop a learning culture to discover better ways working

·       put people ahead of processes and understand how their actions impact others

·       are not always the experts and respond quickly to change

·       are not uncomfortable or afraid of change

Being an agile leader requires a willingness to evolve yourself and develop an evolutionary mindset. Agile leaders show a deeper level of self-awareness as well as an awareness of how their actions impact others.

Anyone can make change without power, a budget, or authority. Many people complain about a lack of agile leadership in others. The only thing stopping you from being an agile leader, is you.



When you need to take action, be decisive and don’t overthink it. Your first instinct is usually the best one.

Every aspect of life includes making decisions, from what to eat or wear to how to approach professional relationships and career choices.  Being conscientious about your own decision-making methods can help you make these decisions strategically and quickly and connect your choices to your priorities'.  

Good decision- making skills can help you reach your goals and earn the respect of those with whom you are communicating.

Being decisive at work is important to demonstrate professionalism and leadership qualities. Most occupations involve making frequent decisions, from how much attention to devote to each task to managing your team or prioritizing clients. When you can make good decisions, your team, your colleagues and your seniors can trust you to work and act independently and be reliable in high-pressure situations.  By streamlining and practicing your decision-making process, you can make your team more productive and, in the process, allow you more time to devote to the tasks you actually enjoy more.

Understand why you are hesitant to make decisions and develop a strategy to overcome that hesitancy. Maybe you feel inexperienced, and this is preventing you from c0nfidently making decisions, well you might learn how others made similar decisions. Perhaps you are hesitating because of negative consequences that resulted from previous decisions, then you should process that situation and recognize that each decision is a new opportunity to succeed.



Identify the abilities of the individuals in the team and develop these.

Empowerment is the process by which a person is stimulated to the point where they can and are willing to decide and act independently on their own initiative and to stand up for themselves. In order to empower someone, you would have to increase their self-confidence, their self-awareness and establish a positive self-image in the individual or group.

The aim of empowerment is to allow someone to understand their situation or environment, and it comes about by the individual gaining and having control, sharpening awareness and increasing participation in the group. It allows the individual to discover and develop capacities already present through self-development. Mutual empowerment can also be achieved by exchanging experiences between fellow team members.

A way leaders can enhance the process of empowerment, is by assisting someone to gain more power by delegating authority. When someone is more involved in the decision-making process or that person is provided more autonomy within the team, they will start to make optimal use of their knowledge, experience, motivation, and both the team member and the team will be more successful.

Here are a few ways to empower your team.

* share the vision

* don't micromanage

* enhance their skills

* celebrate their success

* mentor them


As humans we were designed to have relationships. We were not made to be alone but to exist together. We were created to be in relationships. In Genesis chapter 2 verse 18, it states that “Then the Lord God said, it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” Many other religions are also based on the premise of companionship. So, as you can see, being in relationship is in our DNA, and we operate at our best when we have a partner or “helper”. In the same way it is vital that your team has a relationship with one another and at the same time that you have a relationship with your team.

This is the best way to ensure optimal cooperation and success. Here we see that we need to be in relationships, we need companions or helpers. For this reason, we need teams as helpers, but we definitely need to develop relationships with the teams, so we are not alone.

There is an old African proverb that tells us that “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” You can only go the distance and achieve the objectives if your team is behind you. They will only be behind you if you have a relationship with them.

I am really passionate about music, as you may have gathered from the introduction to this book, so I would like to use the musical analogy to describe the dynamics of a team. And why relationships are important. A team is similar to an orchestra. For an orchestra or a band to make a hit record, they need to perform as a group and be in unison and in touch with each other.

The orchestra comprises a number of musicians who each play a different instrument. The conductor is ultimately the leader of the orchestra. Here are some important facts to remember in order for the orchestra or band to be successful:

·       The composer does not play any instrument but is responsible nevertheless for the overall success of the orchestra. The conductor must ensure that the various musicians all play at the correct tempo and that they are in tune and in time with the rest of the orchestra.

·       Each musician plays their own instrument and cannot play another musician’s instrument.

·       Each musician has to be aware of the other musicians and follow the conductor at the same time.

·       Each musician only has access to their particular score and does not know what the next person should be playing. The conductor on the other hand has the entire score and knows exactly what each instrument is supposed to play at any given time.

If the orchestra does not play in unison, then the song will be awful and no hit record will ever be produced. Furthermore, it is impossible to have a complete song or hit record with only one or some of the instruments. We need all the instruments to complete the song. In the same the conductor cannot take the song work or have a hit record on their own as they do not play an instrument. In exactly the same way the leader cannot perform every task of each team member. A Relational Leader harnesses the skills and energy of the entire team, collectively and individually, to achieve the end result, the hit record.

Teamwork makes the dream work- teams are built on solid meaningful relationships.


 Story Telling

Real heartfelt communication is essential.

It’s important to create safe spaces for people to talk about their own challenges, past and present, without fear of being called “unstable” or passed up for the next big project or promotion. Employees shouldn’t fear that they will be judged or excluded if they open up in this way.

Leaders can set the tone for this by sharing their own experiences or stories of other people who have struggled in the workplace or team and who have felt they could not cope or were too afraid to speak up, especially when they did not know how to do the job, or they had made a mistake. Leaders should also encourage everyone to speak up when feeling overwhelmed or in need. When your people are struggling, you want them to be able to open up and ask for help.

One way to create safe spaces for your team members is through meaningful conversations. We have previously discussed the importance of communication and especially having an open ear policy as a leader, but I want to explore this a bit further by looking at two important aspects of this communication. We as leaders do not have enough quality conversations with our team which in turn leads to negative productivity and low morale amongst the team.

Leaders sometimes convince themselves that that they have too much on their plate and therefore do not have time to chit chat with the team.

As the leader it is your responsibility to kick-start the process. You start the conversation, and if you do not know how, start with having a conversation of the goals and objectives of the team member. Instead of a formal meeting to issue tasks and discuss goals, rather have an informal discussion about it. Allow for lots of questions to clarify the message.

Provide regular feedback about the progress of a task. This can also be done in a more non-threatening way. Instead of having a formal meeting, you could go to the team member’s office or desk and have an informal discussion regarding the progress of the project. Firstly, it shows that as the leader you are prepared to “lower” yourself to go to the team member, and secondly, it creates a more relaxed environment.

When discussing the goals or having the feedback conversation, it shouldn’t be you doing all the talking. To create a safe environment for the team member, you have to allow them to do most of the taking. Ask specific questions and let them divulge all the relevant information. In this way you will ensure them that you are in fact interested in what they are saying.



Leaders that truly are catalysts need to be humble. Being humble does not mean that you cave into any adversity or that you do not exert your authority as required. No, being humble implies that as a leader you are often times prepared to take the back seat and let the team members who have more proficient skills in a particular area apply their skills to complete the task or solve the problem.

Being humble means that you as the leader accept that you are not necessarily the expert in every situation and that the reason you have a team of followers is that they too possess certain skills. If you harness those skills, you can better achieve your end goal or objective.

Humility also can include servant leadership.

The assumption is that if leaders focus on the needs and desires of followers, followers will reciprocate through increased teamwork, deeper engagement, and better performance.



I have often been asked what the difference between inspiring and motivating people is. The dictionary describes it as follows:

·       Inspire – to fill someone with the urge to do or feel something

·       Motivate - to provide someone with a reason for doing something

For me the difference lies in the words "urge" and "reason."

When you motivate someone, they will do something because they expect some type of reward for doing it. It is that so-called "what's in it for me" mentality. But when you inspire someone, they get an urge to do it. They do not expect any reward, they simply do it because they really want to.

If you inspire the team to take action, firstly they will do it because they want to, but they will also take the initiative for doing things and become committed to the task..

If you inspire your team, it will boost their engagement and even get them to be more creative.



No one would argue that 2020 - 2021 was a difficult period of time. From friends and loved ones getting sick, to the uncertainty of our jobs, and the monotony of being confined to our homes, it's been a hectic rollercoaster ride.

As leaders, now more than ever, we have to stick it out and not give up so easily - we must see it through. Our businesses were made to close, our teams had to work from home whilst still having to deal with all the other domestic pressures of being confined with the entire family, and we still had to do business.

There is a difference between management and leadership. This difference I mainly perseverance. Leadership is action, not just a position. Managers will sit at home and wait for the storm to pass, but true leaders will be tenacious and persevere, finding new and creative way to weather the storm and come out the other side in a better position.

Perseverance has the capacity to translate vision into reality. Without passion, leaders are just mere visionaries and without perseverance you become a failure. Perseverance is the distinction between success and failure.

In the letter to the Galatians chapter 6 verse 9, Paul encourages them to "not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."