Finding the Mango Tree Inside of the Seed: Lessons on Leadership, Part 1
I have been delving into some of Dr. Munroe’s work after learning about his recent death in the Bahamas. Along with his wife and 7 other people, he tragically died in a plane crash on November 9, 2014. Dr. Munroe was a globally recognized Evangelical Christian and motivational speaker who not only inspired many of my personal mentors, but also founded and led Bahamas Faith Ministries International (BFMI) and Myles Munroe International (MMI).
Whether measured by Twitter fans or Facebook followers or LinkedIn subscribers, social media leads us to believe that the most influential leaders are those that have the greatest number of followers. While coincidentally, this is in fact often true, the flawed presumption is that these leaders’ immense followership is what makes them so great.
But you’re thinking, doesn’t a leader need followers?
How else do you expand your reach? And in a world greatly influenced by social media, it makes sense why an emerging leader would be interested in leveraging these platforms to spread their message. So it seems, if you are just getting started as a leader seeking to influence the public, you should be focused on building a fan base of people who care about what you have to say and will help spread your message.
Indeed, business leaders like Seth Godin urge us to “find our tribe,” while countless other thought leaders encourage us to “find our why.” While these are important steps in growing as a leader, the problem arises when emerging leaders believe that they must first identify their followers before they can begin spreading their message. This might explain why so many blogs are abandoned after writers are unable to build a sizable subscriber base, or why so many musicians or artists give up after failing to amass dedicated fans. It might also explain why so many people appear to be more focused on marketing than content creation.
Dr. Myles Munroe believed that a mindset focused on finding followers is detrimental to leadership development. Discussed below are six principles of leadership, the elements of which help to explain why so many people unfortunately die as followers.
1. We were all born to be leaders
Dr. Myles Munroe rested his leadership philosophy on the simple, yet incredibly profound premise that every human being is born to be a leader.
He believed that there is a hidden leader trapped inside of every individual who labels themselves a follower. In other words, the essence of human existence can be captured by a single word – leadership.
This begins to make sense when we dissect how Dr. Munroe defined leadership. He explained throughout his writings and during his lectures that we are all born to become leaders, but not over other people. Instead, we are all born to become a leader in an area of gifting. Thus, true leadership begins with the discovery of one’s unique area of gifting, or in other words, one’s unique purpose in life. Every individual was born to leverage their unique talents and gifts for a distinct purpose that will ultimately benefit others.
Dr. Munroe wisely used the metaphor of a mango tree to explain this principle. He said,
“A mango seed is a mango tree.”
This might seem confusing at first. After all, a seed is a seed and a tree is a tree. But what he was trying to convey to his students was the idea that every mango seed was created to become a mango tree. Even more, he wanted them to understand that there is a mango tree trapped inside of every mango seed. Although we cannot see it initially, every mango seed has the capacity to grow into the shape it was ultimately destined to embody – the mango tree.
However, becoming a mango tree is not the true purpose of the mango seed. In fact, becoming a mango tree is merely the process that a mango seed must endure before it arrives at true leadership.
The fundamental purpose of the mango seed is to bear fruit – the sweet mangos that we all crave on hot summer afternoons. See, the fruit encapsulates the deeper purpose of the mango tree. Those are the gifts that the tree shares with the world. This is the reason for the existence of the mango seed and the reason why we value its unique nature.
Rather, the value of the seed lies in its ability to undergo a difficult process, become a proud tree, and ultimately bear sweet fruit, which is made available to human kind as a gift. Thus, in producing fruit and offering it to the world, the mango tree is both operating in its purpose and demonstrating the essence of true leadership.
Likewise, people are similar to mango trees.
The problem is that many people do not recognize who they are on the inside. That is why, as Dr. Munroe suggested, so many leaders are trapped inside of the shell of a follower. We are all uniquely created and designed to bear “fruit” to the world. These unique gifts and talents that we share with others for their benefit encapsulate the reason for our existence on this Earth, or our deeper purpose. And when we utilize our gifts to benefit those around us, we embody the essence of true leadership.
So, right from the start, leadership has nothing to do with following or followers.
It’s all about going through a process and sharing a gift with others. This is why a true leader is always unique, not a carbon copy of someone else. Much like the mango tree, we are all different and unique, from the way we stand on our feet to the way we talk with our mouths.
But Dr. Munroe explained that this question – Who will follow me? – is a clear indication that we have been influenced by a culture of oppression. A culture that divides individuals into leaders and followers, managers and subordinates, masters and slaves. This very culture leads many to avoid responsibility for changing their environment because they embrace the passive mindset of the blind follower. It allows people to believe that perhaps they were simply not born with the “right stuff” to make a real difference.
Where did this culture come from?
Dr. Monroe suggested that our society has been heavily influenced by Grecian ideology. The Greeks were known for being intellectuals and for exalting reason above faith. And according to Dr. Monroe’s research, the Greeks were a people that believed that leadership was a product of natural endowment. Simply put, if you were born with certain “negative” characteristics, you were destined to be a slave. Even if you attained skills or a noteworthy education, if you were born to be a slave based upon your characteristics, you could never aspire to become anything more than a talented and educated slave.
Conversely, if you were born with certain “positive” characteristics (which Dr. Munroe notes were often physical in nature, such as having a certain skin completion . . . ), then it was believed that the “gods” had selected you to be a leader.
See, the Greeks believed that leadership was a product of providence, displayed by having a “charismatic” personality. Things like having a “colorful” personality, being adept at public speaking and being described as an extrovert were all tell-tale signs of charisma. Interestingly, the word charisma is derived from the Greek word kharis, which means “a divinely conferred power or talent.” In others words, the “gods” chose specific individuals to become leaders, and those not chosen by the gods were destined to remain followers, or frequently, slaves.
Even putting on a suit would not change a Greek’s impression of an individual deemed to be a follower. You would merely be a well-dressed slave.
This “slave” mentality still permeates the fabric of many prevailing leadership ideologies today.
We often believe that some people were simply born to become great leaders, while others were born solely to help or remain on the sidelines. We often look at great orators or talkative youths and say, “Wow. That girl is surely called to leadership.” Our notion of what leadership looks like is skewed by history, because we have been taught to focus on the wrong characteristics.
But what if we have been taught to think about leadership in the wrong way?
Those seeking to learn and grow as leaders must be mindful of the ideologies they embrace. As Jesus said in Luke 6:39 –
“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?
If we adopt the leadership philosophy of a misguided and outdated culture, and if we believe that we are simply not cut out to be a true leader, we will surely head down the wrong path and our unique talents will follow us to the grave. Our fruit will be left to rot on the tree and no one will ever taste the gifts we have inside.
Yes, there is value in following the example of others. You need mentors and teachers. But choose your personal leaders based upon your destiny, not by how many followers he or she has. We learn by following those who have already arrived at the placed we would like to go, not by following those who can “move the crowd.”
Even more, never forget that you are a leader too. It’s already inside of you. And you don’t need a huge following to prove it. You simply have to go through a process and grow before you finally bear your fruit.