#164: Are you a fig tree leader or a thornbush leader?

When I was only 7 or 8 years old I learned two important lessons from my grandparents though I didn’t fully understand them at the time.

Fig tree leader

In eastern Washington where I grew up, there were a lot of fruit trees, especially apples, cherries, and peaches. When the fruit was in season we would go to the you-pick farms and get bushel loads of fresh fruit that grandma would can and put in the cellar to enjoy all year long.

Lesson #1: A Tree is Known by  Its Fruit

The first lesson is if you want apples, you need an apple tree. If you want peaches, you need a peach tree. I know, pretty deep, huh? A tree is known by its fruit!

It turns out, and this is what I learned later in life, the same principle applies to people!

Jesus, teaching the disciples said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers” (Luke 6:43-44).

A fig tree produces delicious figs. A thornbush produces, well, nothing but thorns.

Jesus is telling the disciples they need to be good trees who bear good fruit. They need to be like fig trees who produce delicious fruit.

But Jesus is also teaching the disciples the way to tell if someone is good or bad is to examine their fruit. In the long run, good people bear good fruit and bad people bear bad fruit.

Throughout my career, I found Jesus’ teaching to be true. Good people produce good fruit, and bad people produce bad fruit. You can tell whether a person is good or bad by the fruit they produce.

Jesus went on to say that a good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart while an evil man brings out the evil stored in his heart (Luke 6:45).

The distinction Jesus is making is the good that a good man produces comes from deep inside. Their goodness comes from the good that is in their hearts. A person’s goodness or badness is a reflection of the condition of their heart.

If our hearts are pure and focused on the things of God, then we will produce good fruit. If, however, our hearts are focused on selfish things, things of the world, then we will produce bad fruit.

Lesson #2: Sometimes a Good Tree Produces Bad Fruit

A second lesson I learned picking fruit as a young lad was every once in a while I would reach up to pick an apple and find it was bad. Occasionally that good looking peach was all mush on the inside.

The tree was good, but once in a while, it produced a piece of bad fruit.

It turns out, people are like that as well. We may be good trees, but even the best of us will produce a piece of bad fruit. We are, after all, living in a fallen world and last time I looked, none of us is perfect.

So when you look at a tree, you judge the whole tree, not a single piece of fruit. A good person will produce good fruit. Sure we mess up once in a while, but the test of our character, of our hearts, is the good fruit we produce over time.

As leaders, we are known by our fruit. Our employees, our co-workers, and our customers will judge us by the fruit we produce. We will either be known, like Jesus said, as fig trees producing good fruit, or as thornbushes, producing bad fruit.

Are you a fig tree leader, or a thornbush leader?

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you worked for fig tree leaders? Have you worked for thornbush leaders? What impact did each have on you? On the organization?


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Category: Personal Development | Character



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4 thoughts on “#164: Are you a fig tree leader or a thornbush leader?

  1. I loved this blog post. My favorite part was about judging the whole tree, not a single piece of fruit on the tree. It is easy to focus on one bad thing someone did and forget about all the good he/she done. This also served as a reminder to myself that occasionally I will mess up. However, I need to focus on producing “good fruit” overall. I have worked with fig tree leaders more than thornbush leaders. The fig tree leaders demonstrated to me what a quality leader consists of. These leaders represent the type of leader I want to become. The thornbush leaders did not help me with my job. These leaders did not train me how to do my job and they did not care about their employees. Theses types of leaders created an environment that was not pleasant to work in. The organization with the thornbush leaders had a lot more unsatisfied employees and employees that did not care about their job.

  2. I loved the distinction you made between a whole tree being bad as opposed to just one piece of fruit. We live in a broken world where people do make mistakes. We however, cannot claim that the whole tree is bad if it just produces one or two pieces of bad fruit. This is where our Christian discernment comes in and where we need to be forgiving. However, I have unfortunately worked for some thorn bush people and have seen the impact that it has on the business and other employees. It caused a sense of mistrust and miscommunication because those under the leader were not confident in the leaders abilities. Having a leader that is a fig tree that produces good fruit is definitely the way to go.

  3. Though this concept seems simple, I feel like a lot of people nowadays define who they are just by one “apple” rather than the overall “tree.” I think it is important to remember that even good trees produce bad apples because like you mentioned, we live in a fallen world where mistakes are bound do happen eventually. I know for me personally it is difficult not to overthink “the bad apple.” If I realize what I did was wrong though and correct it for the future, I can then move passed it. That way, it can also be a great character building experience.

  4. Well, I certainly hope I’m a fig tree leader! I like the reminder that even a good tree can produce a bad piece of fruit. I’ve known families that did everything right in raising their kids, but still had one kid who got into trouble.