How to Become A Green Thumb Leader—Part One

Updated: Aug 4

In these crazy, confusing times, having a simple metaphor to serve as a model for growing our business can be helpful. My instruction comes from the natural world. 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.


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 Wired and Fast Company. Explore new planned communities and see how people are choosing to live. 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. When the COVID-19 is controlled, being together will become even more essential.


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 global pandemic, 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. As a leader, what options do you have in your “tool chest”


Next week, we’ll look at how a leader seeds, feeds and weeds!

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