In a recent article, I offered the metaphor of leadership as a kind of gardening, asking you to consider the conditions leaders endure and create as if it were a flower garden. Real leaders fertilize and cultivate everything within their reach, whether with a smile of acknowledgment to an associate in another division, a deserved promotion or some crucial feedback to a high potential, or a listening ear to a peer or superior up the line. Planting, mulching, pruning or weeding all serve to fertilize and cultivate an ecosystem for enhanced beauty and sustainability; leading, from anywhere in an organization or system, requires similar attention to a variety of details.
Leadership Ecosystems: From Field to Masterpiece
A few years ago I visited the stunning Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, pictured below. I highly recommend a visit. The most confirmed indoors-lover would be hard pressed to not be awestruck by the grand vistas and charming small vignettes created over the years by one woman with a vision and the gardeners she inspired to maintain and expand this year-round spectacle ever since.
Take a look at this photo. In one gorgeous vista there are a wide variety of plants, shrubs and trees, each with its own needs and each with its own gifts and role to play in creating such a stunning impact from any angle. While individually each species has its own beauty, put together by an expert hand, they truly create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
With apologies in advance to master gardeners and biologists, and an invitation to let leadership concepts float in the background as we go, let’s look at the basics of these high impact beds.
Components Of A High Impact Garden
There are annual plants which are gorgeous and provide color and drama for a single season. Their purpose is served during a defined period of time, and when complete, they are removed and replaced with other annuals whose gifts are more suited to the new season. Marigolds and impatiens for the summer, colorful ornamental cabbages and kales for the fall, sweet alyssum for the winter, pansies for the spring to name just a few.
How does this show up in your work setting?
Are there consultants or interns who make a big impact but whose role isn’t a long term engagement? Perhaps your company or your division is a powerful training ground for talent—they start with you, bloom, contribute, and move on. Projects, campaigns, launches may all serve as the “eye-catching annuals,” putting on a show while the other components do their work more in the background. Annuals are a vital part of any garden. Their finite lifespan does not make them less valuable. It just requires a gardener knowing what kind of plant she’s dealing with and how to best utilize it for maximum impact.
Perennials bloom season after season, often growing larger and stronger over time. Some re-seed, some spread through bulbs, rhizomes and other tubers, but most go dormant for a time while they regroup. Many perennials benefit from being divided if their roots grow too large and are too entangled. When perennials are divided, you literally split the plant into smaller portions that can then be planted close by or somewhere else entirely. When divided properly, each portion then grows and spreads again.
Where are the perennials in your work environment?
They could be strong people who are steady contributors, growing and making more impact year over year. They grow strong people around them, which enables a leader to have multiple strong contributors to redistribute around the organization. It’s one way to consciously grow a corporate culture.
Perennials can also be longer term projects that have a seasonality, but return year after year—budget planning for example. Do you treat it like an annual—rip it out and start over from scratch the next year? At times, that’s a necessary process. Or do you view it as a perennial? In the hands of a strategic leader, budget processes (and any other recurring process) can get better and stronger every year, enhancing the look and health of the organization, rather than the stress of an annual “fire drill.”
Pairing perennials with annuals in a garden provides the best of all worlds—both make big contributions to the overall impact. AND, the gardener needs to know which is which and cultivate them accordingly.
Larger shrubs and trees serve yet a different purpose in a garden bed. They provide height, texture, and color if they are blooming. Some lose their leaves in the winter revealing a different kind of visual form to the overall balance, others are evergreen and give a consistent look and anchor year-round. Tall evergreens, in particular, provide interest in a garden throughout all seasons.
Every team and organization needs a few of these. Some people in your company might be “specimen” trees that are eye-catching all year and around which the entire garden is planned. They need more regular maintenance, but the overall impact can be worth it. Others might be evergreens that are constant and reliable leaders in the garden, providing form and continuity. Depending on the time of year, they may not be the first thing you notice, but when they are missing, the whole design falls apart.
Corporate values and mission often serve as key anchors in an organization. Processes that evolve from those values can also become a backbone for the company. They may not be the first thing you notice, even when they’re healthy and strong; but when a set of core values is ailing or missing or abandoned, the negative impact is very noticeable.
What or who are the anchors in your organization?
You matter. Your actions matter.
The leadership ecosystem you’re creating at work is important. We spend the majority of our adult lives at work. What will you commit to doing (stopping, starting, or continuing) that supports a sustainable ecosystem at work—one that makes space for variety and consistency, texture and color, and year-round interest?
Give it a shot and let me know what you’re working on.