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Succession Planning – Lessons from the Plantain Tree

September 28 2020 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, Leadership Development and Institutional Strengthening Specialist, CARICAD

Over the last year, I have become an avid gardener, and the gardening experience has provided me with a number of insights and life lessons. The most recent one comes from one of my plantain trees. This plantain tree is particularly resilient. As a sucker, I acquired it while doing house construction – definitely not a good time to be engaged in planting, as there was no appropriate place to plant it on a construction site. Notwithstanding, the poor sucker got planted at a spot; it did not do well. Then it was moved again; it still did not do well. But, it never died; through all the drought, dust and cement, it persevered, although it did not flourish.

Lesson 1 – You might find yourself in a job or environment that is not optimal for your growth. Persevere nonetheless.

Finally, construction ended, and the creation of the garden commenced in earnest. An appropriate spot was found for the plantain. It started to get nurtured, and it began to flourish.

Lesson 2 – If you want your people to develop, you have to create the right environment for this to happen; the correct nutrients need to be provided consistently, and certain obstacles (like rocks in the soil) have to be removed.

One wonderful day, the plantain tree (it finally could be called a tree), produced not one, not two, but four suckers.

Lesson 3 – It is not enough to perform well as an individual. Sustainability requires successors. Leaders should aim to produce other leaders.

Once a plantain tree produces suckers, the next stage is for the tree to shoot, and bear plantains, after which it dies. However, I am impatiently waiting to see this shoot from my favourite plantain tree. In discussing my impatience and concern over the length of time it was taking to see a shoot, I was asked the question, “What is the size of the suckers?” The answer – the suckers were quite small. Then I was told – as the tree will die once its shoot matures, it will not shoot until the suckers are large and strong enough to continue the sustainable reproductive cycle.

Lesson 4 – It is not sufficient to identify successors; they have to be mentored and nurtured to get to a place of readiness to assume higher responsibilities.


I continue to wait (now patiently) for the plantain crop.

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