Are You a Green Thumb Leader?
By: Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE
Eileen McDargh is a Hall of Fame professional speaker, management consultant, resiliency expert and top thought-leader in leadership. Visit The Resilient Spirit at http://www.eileenmcdargh.com to get her free quarterly e-zine, read her blog and articles. Read the testimonials from hundreds of satisfied clients from all over the globe and hire her to keynote at your next meeting or facilitate your next retreat.
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.
Here’s wishing green thumbs for all of us.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?