A large bonsai tree

What Does Mr. Miyagi Teach Us about Leadership?

Remember the beloved “wax on, wax off” sensei from the Karate Kid movies that taught Daniel 

LaRusso how to defend himself against the dreaded Cobra Kai’s?

He is often seen pruning and grooming Bonsai trees while Daniel was off waxing cars and staining fences. 

There’s a key leadership lesson we can learn from Mr. Miyagi Leadership related to the Bonsai trees he meticulously took care of.

The Truth About Bonsai Trees and Mr. Miyagi Leadership

Bonsai trees aren’t naturally tiny. They actually have the DNA to grow to all different sizes but are limited on purpose. 

Bonsai trees are placed in a “Bon”, a small tray/pot, which limits the room the roots have to grow in. The tree is pruned to be small and placed in an environment where growth is limited. 

Keeping it small is intentional, and the “Bon” constrains it from growing beyond the size of the pot. 

As leaders, the purposeful limit to something’s growth should cause us to ask 2 key questions:

  1. What limitations am I putting on myself as a leader that limits my growth?
  2. What limitations am I putting on my team that limit their growth?

Goals for Growth Using Mr. Miyagi Leadership

Our goal as leaders should be to create space for people to grow. We should create a margin where our team members can stretch themselves and experiment in an effort to unlock the potential inside them. 

They need open space and the freedom to try new things and take on new responsibilities. Leaders should create that type of growth environment.

The adverse is also true. We can actually limit our own and others’ growth if we’re not mindful and intentional. We can create constraining environments where growth is limited and we end up with small trees and untapped potential.

Below are 2 keys to unlocking the growth potential in your leadership and on your teams:

Grow You First

The first person you need to lead is yourself. What is your growth plan? What are you creating? What are you doing to push yourself so you continue to grow? What are you reading? 

You can only lead people where you’ve been yourself. Your lack of commitment to growth not only limits you but also limits those following you. How big is the pot your roots are growing in?

“You can only lead people where you’ve been yourself.”

Grow Your Team Second

Work with your team members to develop personal and professional growth plans. Give them books or articles to read. Pass along good content that will stimulate them to think a little differently today than yesterday. 

Challenge them to think about the pot their roots are growing in and think of ways you can stretch them. Help them think through their 1–5 year plans and dream about what’s possible. 

Reminder: Lead Beyond Limitation

The best part about growth is that it has the potential to create a lasting impact by starting small. You don’t need a big budget to create growth plans or dream big with your team members. 

At Wildsparq, we’d encourage you to start by prioritizing weekly 1-1’s with each of your direct reports. You’d be amazed at the growth that happens when you consistently engage with your team members each week.

Harry S. Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Remember, the key to this growth conversation is to remember to lead yourself well first. Find a book, podcast series, or newsletter to subscribe to and take your own personal growth and development seriously. Choose to live and lead beyond limitations one small step at a time.

For a simple action step toward your own personal growth, subscribe to the Wake Up & Lead and The Secret Sauce Podcasts at the links below: 

Leaders Ready!