The Energizer

Resilient Insights for Work & Life

Are You A Green Thumb Leader?

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Saturday, January 11, 2014
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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 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!” 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. 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? Here’s wishing green thumbs for all of us.

© The Resiliency Group.  All rights reserved. You may reprint this article so long as it remains intact with the byline and if all links are made live.

Since 1980, professional speaker and Hall of Fame member Eileen McDargh has helped Fortune 100 companies as well as individuals create connections that count and conversations that matter. Her latest book is Gifts from the Mountain-Simple Truths for Life’s Complexities. Her other books include Talk Ain’t Cheap…It’s Priceless and Work for a Living and Still Be Free to Live, one of the first books to address the notion of balance and authentic work. Find out more about this compelling and effective professional speaker and join her free newsletter by visiting

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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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