In my leisure time, I am a gardener. The things
I learn from gardening influence and inspire my
outlook on life and business. For example, nurturing
a healthy business organization is similar to cultivating
a garden. It requires attention, care, and among
other things, it requires weeding. If left unattended,
an organization can become overtaken by workplace
behaviors that, like weeds, strangle creativity,
passion, enthusiasm, productivity and innovation.
These unproductive behaviors include withholding
support, withholding information, attacking diverse
views, talking over others, intimidation, and lashing
For a flower to reach its full potential it must
have space to grow and access to what nurtures it.
Weeds can slow that process down and so to support
my garden I need to eliminate weeds. Similarly in
the workplace, when I look for ways to eliminate
unproductive behaviors, I encourage the potential
I have found that in this elimination process,
it can be easy to think of weeds as “bad.”
There can be a demand that the weed go and not come
back – an irritation – “you shouldn’t
be here” – a thinking that the weed
means something is wrong. All of a sudden I am pulling
weeds instead of cultivating my garden. Instead
of treasuring the blossoms, I might see only what
is “bad” – those darn weeds. I
become a destroyer, not a creator. Energetically,
I hurt my garden as I hurl these thoughts to the
earth. I contaminate the soil and my experience
– joy and beauty are interrupted.
Weeds are not bad per se; they are simply plants
growing where they are not needed. Similarly, in
my experience it is helpful to see unproductive
behaviors not as “bad,” but as behaviors
that simply lower the efficiency with which aggressive
goals are reached. Each gardener decides for herself
what a weed is and what a flower is: what behaviors
make it easier (i.e. require less time, fewer resources
and less stress) to reach my goals? Which behaviors
make it more difficult? This definition can change
daily. When I take responsibility to cultivate the
garden of my experience, I choose what to grow and
nurture. I choose how to invest my time and energy
to create what I want.
In this cultivation process, first I must become
aware that a habit, belief, behavior or relationship
dynamic is no longer serving me, and then I can
choose to weed it out. I can see this as a creative
process, as making room for more of what I do want.
There is no need to judge the habit, belief or relationship
as wrong or bad. That will only increase aggravation.
Instead, I can cultivate the garden of my experience
in a positive way.
Recently, I had the opportunity to practice this
strategy in my professional life. My publisher,
Silver Falls Press, had arranged for a conference
call for me with the dean of a local university
to discuss an upcoming presentation on leadership
skills that I was to give to an audience of executives.
The date was set, and then one of the members of
the committee skimmed my book, The Path to Corporate
Nirvana, and decided it did not apply to them. He
explained to the dean that he felt the book applied
to entry level employees or lower level managers
and would not hold value for their group of senior
level executives and business academicians.
At the onset of the conversation, the individual
questioning the value of my presentation was clearly
intent on demonstrating that the material in the
book was not a good fit for their program. This
was clear from his tone and the nature of his remarks
that “these kinds of issues might show up
in small companies or with junior people, but senior
management at the large corporations we deal with
have generally moved past these kinds of issues.”
He seemed to bristle particularly at the topic of
emotions, not seeing it as relevant.
In the past, I might have withdrawn from the conversation,
thinking “if you don’t see the value
in this (or me), the heck with you.” In other
words, I might have yanked this relationship out
of my garden as in “who needs the hassle?”
I watched myself get angry and experience being
attacked and made wrong. I became acutely aware
of my experience. So this is what it feels like
to be made wrong! So this is what it is like to
fear failure, to want to withdraw from confrontation
for fear of not being good enough.
Then I described for them a client whom that very
week had withdrawn from articulating an important
issue to his boss because the boss had initially
said the idea wasn’t relevant. In speaking
with my client, I had asked: “How big of an
increase in your department’s productivity
would have occurred if you had gotten your boss
to see your point?” And he had answered, “Easily
forty percent.” I described how this was a
senior person in a $40 billion organization. I was
able to be very present in describing the experience
because I was having a similar experience right
at that moment! This was a helpful example and we
moved forward with plans for a presentation. This
was a useful learning opportunity for me. I am beginning
to see how withdrawal from conflict is no longer
serving the garden of my experience. I am weeding
out that behavior and learning how to hold for my
experience without attacking the experience of others.
This will further enhance my ability to coach others
having this experience, accelerating my productivity.
Also recently, I had the opportunity to address
an audience of diversity professionals and was surprised
by the response I received from a large segment
of the audience when I defined productivity as the
grace and ease with which aggressive goals are met.
There was an explosion of negative emotion from
the group. They were fighting with me on this point.
I watched my defenses come up and the argument,
“If they can’t understand this point
they are dumb,” come present in my consciousness.
I wanted to attack back and make them and this experience
of a head-on encounter with resistance just plain
As I came present with the experience, I became
conscious. Then I got curious. So I asked, “Can
you tell me what it is about that phrase that is
so troubling?” The answer was a surprise.
“You have to understand, half the people in
this room are Black, and when you say ‘grace
and ease’ it is like you are asking us to
lie down and be slaves again.” Now that was
interesting! I shared a little about what it was
like to have a “diverse” view rejected
so adamantly, how I wanted to make them wrong, and
I wondered out loud if misunderstanding might be
at the source of the resistance they were receiving
from their organizations.
Later I could see how this encounter with resistance
is a little like encountering weeds in a garden.
It is tempting to go on the attack, to invoke destroyer
energy. In hindsight I can see that they were giving
me the key to supporting them in going to their
next level. The fighting energy, the weeding-out
energy, has served them in reaching goals: they
have achieved a seat at the table in their organizations
and they have successfully implemented new policies
that encourage a diverse work force. To go to the
next level of productivity, however, it may take
giving up the fight, listening, and building collaborative
win-win relationships. I couldn’t quite see
this fully at the time because I was attacking being
attacked. This is helpful to see. My intention going
forward is to have even less resistance to encountering
weeds (unproductive behaviors) than I have had in
the past, and thereby continue to cultivate and
support others as they cultivate healthy learning