The Blooming Truth

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

Alexander Den heijer

I bet there’s as many books and articles on leadership as there are on gardening. What I find interesting is the parallels that can be made between the two. The quote above comes from a Dutch inspirational speaker and trainer dedicated to helping individuals flourish by sharing insights and inspiration for personal transformation. I love this quote. Depending on where I am in my life or day when I read this, I can see myself as both the gardener and the flower.

My husband and I maintain a vegetable garden in the summer. The tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans always start out as a flower; we look at the vines and plants daily to see how the flowers are doing. Lot of healthy flowers means lots of healthy fruit!

The first few years we had the vegetable garden, the plants produced a LOT of fruit. More than we could eat in our house, so we always offered some of the bounty to our neighbors. I hadn’t gardened at all before we moved into our house, so there was a lot to learn. As a gardener, I had to use many of my senses to assess the progress and health of the plants. I used my eyes to see if they looked healthy, colorful, intact, and that they were actually growing. I used my hands to feel the textures and overall stability of the plant’s branches, and to feel the soil’s moisture and consistency. I used my nose to smell for any rotting and most importantly, to smell the amazing aroma of a healthy plant. I used my mouth to taste the fruit the plants produced.

When the tomato plants were growing so thick and tall that they started to fall over, stakes and tomato cages were added to give the plants structure. When the soil was dry, it was watered to keep the plants from wilting. Fertilizer was added frequently. Fences were added to keep the bunnies out. We approached gardening with empathy and compassion for the plants; this was their environment, and it was up to us to provide them with every opportunity to grow, flourish, and transform from seeds into fruit-bearing successes.

Then one year, life got in the way, and we were unable to tend to our garden like we did in the past. We planted a full garden anyway; we still wanted juicy and fresh tomato sandwiches for dinner and fresh cucumbers for snacks. We wanted fresh lettuce, and we wanted to hear and feel the snap of fresh green beans. We had super high expectations for our garden despite not having time for it.

We didn’t visit the garden daily. Stakes and support cages were added to the tomato plants too late, so many branches were broken simply due to the height, and weight of the fruit. Some of the cucumber vines were not trained up the trellis, so they strangled the tomatoes. The beans got eaten by who knows what. Lettuce was not harvested as it should have, so it bolted and became inedible. There were days the garden went too dry, and all of the plants looked wilted and sad; but we had other things going on, so watering didn’t always happen when it should have.

If Alexander was with us that year, we would definitely have been scolded…our flowers were failing because of us. We knew what we were supposed to do as good gardeners; we just didn’t do it that year. No compassion, no empathy for the plants, no support, infrequent fertilizer, and all this led to plants breaking, running amok, being eaten, and even dying.

Taking this metaphor into an organization, what if we had each been people managers? What if we had let our people fend for themselves; not offering the right support, tools, or nourishment at the right times? What if, like the cucumbers that ran amok and strangled the tomatoes, we allowed some people to suffocate professionally while others moved in any way they wanted?

If you are reading this and you are a people manager, you are a gardener. How are your people doing? If you think of them as flowers, are they blooming? Vibrant and healthy? Producing results you’re proud of? Do they have the right support and tools to do what they’re being asked to do? Are any of your people on the other end of the spectrum, are they struggling? Wilted and sickly? Not producing results? Are they suffocating…is something not right with their environment?

Question for “gardeners:” what can you do to change the environment for the people who are struggling (support, tools, nourishment, training, etc.), and what can you learn from your successful people, why they are successful?

If you are an individual contributor reading this, you are a flower. How are you doing? If you are flourishing and successful, how are you letting your “gardener” know which support, tools, nourishment have worked the best? Or, if you are a struggling flower, are you helping your “gardener” to know this? Are you leading yourself in ways that you can discover why you aren’t blooming; what are the barriers limiting your success?

Question for “flowers:” what can you do to let your “gardener” know why you are successful, what about your environment is working? And if you are struggling, what can you do to let your “gardener” know your environment is not working; and can you respectfully use your leader voice to articulate and ask for what you need (support, tools, nourishment, training, etc.)?

All flowers are different; some bloom early, some bloom late, some are tall, short, some blooms are huge while other blooms are tiny. One thing though, is consistent across all flowers: they all need the right environment to bloom and be their best.

Happy gardening to all…lead on!

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