We are used to speaking in metaphors, all of us, and here at Beyond we run whole events that are based on the metaphoric – “Lessons for Leadership from Horse Whispering” and “Firewalking”. So imagine how I felt when I found myself on a “pruning course”. Yes, I do mean something involving autumnal plants and secateurs. I was the youngest there by at least 10, maybe even 15 years! And strangely, I wanted to know about pruning rather than the cups of tea that many were obsessed by.
Our androgynous tutor was great. He (according to a Google search later – although I am still not quite convinced that it does not need updating), was great because he showed exceptional compassion and patience to his elderly, and largely uninterested, audience.
He also knows a thing or two about pruning. Apparently the first thing one must do is the 3Ds. 3Ds? Well the advice is that you start by removing the diseased, damaged and dead. (So obvious when you think about.) Then you can see what you are left with before you restructure.
Now, the mention of restructuring sent me in to a fit of (almost entirely) internal giggles and a spiral of thoughts….none to do with shrubs or apple trees. Rather my musing was about organisations. So many fail to do the 3Ds. In fact all too often, they restructure in order to do the 3Ds!
I considered tweeting about the 3Ds but decided that those who don’t know me may misinterpret this as disrespectful of people. My take on reality in organisational life is that people and roles do “pass their sell by date”. To use another horticultural metaphor some plants get root bound and stop flowering. Some are very high maintenance and others like cacti are better left alone and tolerate downright abuse.
It seems that far too many senior folk avoid having the difficult conversations about performance – or for that matter, anything else. Much of my professional life has been spent helping people to deal with conflict, to naming elephants and to challenge unacceptable behaviours.
Back with the pruning, there was more. While tackling an apple tree, at one point I heard him say, almost to himself, “I will leave this branch to replace that one…” (Talent management and succession planning in one) Putting my best NLP modelling skills to use I asked just how long term he was thinking. The reply? 5 years at least. Wow! What a shame so many leaders don’t do that. Circumstance and politics dictate that most are focussed on the next shareholders’ meeting, the annual targets or the next election.
And what is true of the macrocosm is so of the microcosm too. I am left wondering about my own pruning – what parts of me could do with a trim or radical restructure? Can I maintain focus for the next 5 years not just react to my inbox? What conversations am I not having with me? What aspects of my life and how I spend my time are no longer bearing fruit? As David Whyte says “anyone or anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you”.