May 18, 2022

Potted Plants

Josh Gentine

While it may not seem obvious, employees and potted plants are similar. Staggeringly so.

Let me explain.

First, their presence can sometimes go unnoticed.
Second, if exposed to harsh conditions, they suffer.
Third, you need to be measured and consistent in the way you interact with them, or again, they suffer.
Fourth, the more attention you give them, the healthier they become.

Let’s explore each.

First, like many things around us, the more we see of them, the less we notice them. A few weeks ago, my wife moved our ficus lyrata (fiddle leaf fig, obviously), and its absence drew my attention. I couldn’t pinpoint what was different in the room, but that space felt empty. Alone. The corner was cold and intimidating with its sharp lines and triangle-ness. It was the missing plant. Our team members are the same. We often take for granted their presence and the space they fill in our organizations, but when you lose one, it creates a hole. It creates a hole in the flow of work, but it also creates a hole in the environment. Employees create a depth and dimension that gives life to organizations.

What’s the lesson? Notice your employees. Take some time this coming week to let them know they are appreciated and that you enjoy their presence.

Second, we had a beautiful fern in our kitchen all winter. It had bright green leaves, not the dark heavy green of a rubber plant or a mature peace lily, but a springtime green. When the calendar turned to April, we moved the fern to the porch where it could thrive in its natural habitat, breathing in the fresh air and basking in the warmth of sunlight. Unfortunately, our warm spring days were also accompanied by very cold nights, and we neglected to notice. We subjected that poor plant to hot days and freezing nights; the harsh conditions were too much for it and it died.

Similarly, employees need a good environment to thrive. If you give employees the tools they need to succeed, nurture their growth, and provide a healthy culture, they will bear fruit. However, if you put an employee in a toxic environment, full of dysfunction and negativity, they won’t survive in your organization, and neither should they.

Third, when I was a young bachelor living on my own, I bought several plants. I wanted them in my apartment as they added a touch of humanity and maturity. When friends would come over, they could see that I was a grown-up with my stemless wine glasses and potted plants. However, as a twenty-something bachelor, I would often travel on a whim and often forget my viridescent friends. It was first rate neglect. When I would finally notice the sagging sack of a plant in the corner, I would try to breathe life back into it by flooding it with water and shoving it next to a window, hoping the intervention would save it. Short-term, this worked. Long-term, this cycle of starvation and attention was ultimately its demise. They needed consistency. Constancy.

Employees are the same. There is a pattern I notice with many leaders. When they are under stress and up against a demanding list of priorities and pressures, employees are neglected – and often, abused or taken advantage of. It is only when an employee speaks up (or worse yet, leaves) that the executive takes notice and calls me. “Something is wrong with my team”, is the common complaint. My response is often the same. “No, something is wrong with you.” Leaders often get into a cycle of neglect followed by excessive attention, but people thrive best when actions are consistent. Constant. When you neglect your team and fail to cultivate their success, only to shower them with attention when they demand it, the team won’t survive. You might think your emergency interventions are enough to stem the bleeding, but that can only last for so long.

Be consistent. Don’t starve your team only to shower them with time and attention when you notice signs of neglect or when you happen to have a few extra minutes. This neglect-attention cycle is overwhelming and will be seen as insincere. It is a recipe for dysfunction and discord.

I am now in my forties. I have a wife and two kids. We (generally) take care of our plants. We nurture them. We are consistent in our attention to them, and because of that we have beautiful potted plants, and they add a brilliant dimension to our house. But we have to work on it. We must be present and attentive and consistent.

Employees are no different. If you give your team time, attention, and the tools to succeed, they will make a significant impact, but you must work on it. You must be consistent. Constant.

If you need help cultivating your team or nurturing them back to life, please contact me, I’ve got a green thumb.

PS: These same concepts apply to friends, kids, and puppies.
PPS: Here is a great place to buy a potted plant for your office as a consistent reminder.

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Bench believes in the innate potential of all people and the power of organizations to make a profound impact in the world. We coach, consult and advise individuals, leaders, entrepreneurs, and teams.