From my home office, I can
look out and see my garden. It's loaded with wonderful, terrible sights, sights
that mirror much I find in many of our companies. You'd recognize it too.
There are roses speckled
with mildew and rust from the fog carried on the breath of El Nino. Weeds have
taken over many patches of dirt, despite the fact that I have gone over them
with a hula hoe. (For the non-gardener, that's a triangular hoe that saves your
back while weeding. Supposedly, you scrub away at the ground, loosening the
weeds -and anything else that stands in the way-while leaving the good soil
behind.) The rogue cherry tomato plant however has taken off … again. Sticky
green arms with tiny green/yellow fruit now stretch in all directions. The plant
must have been the gift from some bird that dropped a seed as it flew to a nest
in the pine tree. I didn't think a cherry tomato would grow in that patch of
adobe clay. My feathered seed-sower proved me wrong.
What I must do to get my
garden back in shape, to make it world class and ready for the competitive eye
of my next door neighbor, is exactly what every leader must do: seed, feed,
and weed. How I perform seeding, feeding, and weeding depends upon the season,
the unexpected turns of nature, and the makeup of my garden. Walk with me through
my garden and you'll see the analogies for our work world.
1. Consider the "season".
In today's 24-hour, global economy, it would appear that there is no season,
anything that distinguishes night from day. Grow, grow. Sell,sell. But the smart
leader watches the sky, reads the clouds, and can tell when there are shifts
to indicate a new season. Bring products to market at the wrong time or introduce
an idea without understanding timing and the "garden" can quickly resemble a
piece of scorched earth.
2. Watch for trends. Read
magazines like Executive Excellence, Fast Company and American Demographics.
Subscribe to TrendLetter. Explore new planned communities and see how people
are choosing to live. Study mail order catalogs. In these latter two areas,
you'll find a move toward "Main Street U.S.A.". Sure, high-speed connections
and technology are placed in the home, but new designs incorporate walking paths,
close-at-hand stores, and alleyways connecting homes. Technology will be used
for information but the technology backlash is for creating places of human,
real-time interaction. Levenger's, the mail order catalog for unique
office and library accessories, features rotary dial phones. The catalog copy
reads, "You don't have to program it!"
3. Give credence to the
unexpected and control what you can control. The El Nino weather that not only
raised havoc with my roses but spawned dangerous storms and opposing draughts
throughout the world is an example of our helplessness to control some of our
environment. The same thing is true in business. Market turndowns, a coup in
Africa, the scandals of a Presidency, an airline strike-you name it-there are
many things that can impact our business. A green thumb leader takes all possible
precautions and then remains flexible and ready for the unexpected. Scenario
planning, a strategy first employed by Royal Dutch Shell, brings experts from
a wide range of fields to discuss actions if different scenarios take place.
Scenario planning allows you to think out-in advance-various options. In like
fashion, my corner of the garage has all the tools, sprays, and plant potions
for probable surprises.
4. Plant seeds and give
space to the sowers. A green thumb leader knows that it is only through dialogue
that ideas can sprout and take root. Instead of jealously guarding "my ideas,
my client, my territory", a leader with an eye toward growing a garden takes
no ownership but rather seeks to find which seeds have merit. Like the biblical
passage, some seeds will whither on rocks or find little moisture in shallow
soil. But others will be carried to places where they flourish.
As for giving space to the
sewer, consider my vagabond tomato plant. In like fashion, where are the unexpected
opportunities that can spring up if allowed to flourish? When newcomers bring
ideas from other industries and businesses, are they welcomed or are they rooted
out because "that's not how we do things here".
5. Feed different plants
differently. Not every plant is fed the same thing, yet all plants must eat.
My roses need a systemic for the rust and mildew, along with a topical spray.
My oranges just need some citrus fertilizer every now and then. A green thumb
leader understands the truism that "nothing is so unequal as the equal treatment
of unequals". Just as each voice has its own unique sonogram, each employee,
associate, stakeholder needs a unique blend of "food". For some, it's "numbers".
"Give me numbers and I thrive." For many, it's the opportunity to learn and
advance in knowledge. For others, it's the engaging nature of the work itself
that offers fulfillment. One size does not fit all.
6. Weeding is backbreaking
work. A hula hoe alone will not suffice. It was not enough to turn over the
soil and think that I had emptied my garden of the weeds. In fact, because I
didn't bend over and get close enough to the ground, I picked up only the surface
"weeds". What I really had managed to do was to churn the stronger ones into
a hiding place where they surfaced stronger and more invasive then ever. A green
thumb leader hates this part of the task. It means fact-finding. Accountability.
And time. Not everything that is "green" belongs in my garden. Not every associate
belongs with you. In fact, firing customers at times can also be the healthiest
long-term fertilizer for a vibrant business
7. Take time to stop and
smell the roses. I can get so overwhelmed with the "work" of my garden that
I forget why I planted it. Just sitting by the side of the garden, watching
my neighbors' delight when I deliver bouquets to their doors, or smelling the
fragrance in the evening are all the reminders I need. Why have you planted
your "garden"? Are there people who delight in the work of your hands? What
is the aroma that lingers after you have turned off the lights for the night?
Here's wishing green thumbs
for all of us.