RRGwrites

On life…and learning

How I Learnt A Crucial Leadership Lesson From My Garden

with 4 comments

Leadership Lessons RRGwrites.jpg

While interacting with my gardener today, I realized an invaluable lesson in people leadership and employee engagement. A lesson, that originates from a mistake I made early this summer…

Those of you who know me well are aware that I am gardener at heart.

Having spent my childhood in the lush and greener surroundings of a cantonment, I developed a green thumb from very early on. Baba, my late father, was the one who taught me the nuances of nurturing a sapling. He and I would spend hours every Sunday, attending to our plants. Lot of heart and effort went into what I know now of gardening.

In the concrete world of the Millennium City – Gurgaon, I am one of the lucky ones to have a sizable garden space in my home. I built this green space from the scratch; every day, I feel a sense a fulfillment when I stand there. On weekends, you’d mostly find me working there in a corner, personally managing the growth and upkeep of each of the plants. Each blooming flower and reaping fruit is a resultant of my love and labour for my garden.

Looks like I am losing track. What was my mistake and what is the leadership lesson learnt?

Let me introduce you to CB, my ex-gardener. He was my key aide in building and nurturing this garden. CB was a trusted, old hand for over 7 years. He was extremely dedicated, hard-working and polite. Though I was aware that he didn’t possess the deeper skills of gardening, his efforts and willingness to work with the family ensured better growing plants, blooming flowers and a neat-&-clean garden area. He was also loyal and smart enough to save me money – he’d bring smaller saplings from the greener sidelines of the colony, painstakingly make cuttings of otherwise expensive plants and make my garden look nicer, without burning a whole in my pocket. He would also sit and listen to my rantings of how knowledgeable I was about gardening and amuse me. High on personal integrity – he was a trusted family aide and we would not think twice before leaving him in charge of the home. In that role, he was also helpful as a Man-Friday in all family events; often running small errands, without much ado.

One fateful day, something happened that made me lose my cool, and how!

Around the onset of last summer, I bought hundreds of periwinkle flower saplings. Baba used to love this flower; every year, I would grow them in large parts of the garden. Continuing the tradition, I decided to cultivate them this summer too, expecting the entire garden to bloom within a month. Just a day after we planted these saplings, the entire family traveled out of station. As always the responsibility of tending to the garden was with CB.

I came back after a week, and to my utter dismay, found most of the saplings dried out – dead… Of course, they weren’t watered for days…

CB was summoned. I gave him a verbal lashing; no holds barred. He, and another maid, who shared this responsibility – both had erroneously assumed that the other would have watered the plants. Result: no one did either water or check. Delhi’s on-setting scorching summer heat dried out nearly all the saplings.

Seeing this damage, my emotions took better of me. As I continued to lose my cool, he stood folded his hands in front of me. CB did try to explain. I didn’t pay any heed; I was furious. And as they say, in such temper, you only say words that you regret later.

As a result, CB, my loyal aide for years, was heart-broken to hear my overtly tough words. He was visibly upset being scolded in front of the entire household. And despite the fact that realized my overstepping on the heat and calming down soon after, CB decided to move on. He moved back to his hometown and didn’t come back. Even if he did return to Gurgaon, I didn’t see him… For many days, I rued this loss. All others were upset too at home. My mother didn’t say much, though I know she wasn’t too happy either with my outburst. My ‘better-half’ didn’t opine much either, but I knew that she wasn’t too happy knowing this incident… Other servants too didn’t like it, I know… I too was feeling apologetic…

I waited for a few months and tried to trace him down; no avail. I engaged another gardener…

Working for last 8 months, my new gardener too is a good man. He knows the craft and has gardening skills that CB didn’t. He too works fine

And only just fine… my new gardener works by the clock. He cribs more often. He demanded and got a higher salary. He expects me not to correct him at all, should I see things not going right. I am still not sure of his personal integrity, albeit I haven’t experienced otherwise as yet. He hasn’t yet become a trusted family man-Friday, let alone my mother and wife entrusting him with the home errands or the family events. Does he think and act in my best interest each time, I am not sure. He works hard and yet, takes a clinical approach – not with interest and passion to make the garden look its best. He doesn’t save me money. He knows a lot, much more than CB, but doesn’t bring the passion and politeness…

I miss CB every time when I interact with my new gardener. The garden still looks nice and clean, but not spotless. Flowers still bloom, but they aren’t planted with the heart… No wonder I don’t see the same view, despite all my own individual efforts…

This morning, when we were planting the winter saplings, I found my new gardener again cribbing about the amount of work it entailed… I didn’t stop myself from giving him a sermon on work-ethics. He didn’t seem impressed; I could see it… And I surely didn’t want him feeling disengaged. Hence, to bring him around, I handed him a 100 rupee note as an added incentive… Then only I found him smiling. Something, that CB never expected…

Leadership lesson learnt for life.

Think of my garden as an organization, myself as a leader or the promoter and CB as a trusted & engaged employee. Most often then not, organizations lose good talent because of bad managers or even when good managers lose it on small mistakes. CB did make a mistake and that did cost me money and agony. It also led to a lost opportunity and a poorly bloomed garden the whole summer. That said, he still was a trusted, long-standing employee, with only good for the organization and the leader in his heart. His record of seven years was much meaningful when compared to the loss of one summer… Losing him due to a heart-burn, purely due to a leader mismanaging a crucial conversation, was a big loss. It could have been completely avoided.

Many times, such employees will go join competition – their organizations will bloom better than yours. How often we see this in organizations? Quite often…

We can always hire a more efficient replacement. But the cost of replacement of a trusted employee & team-mate is way high; much higher than only the monetary cost. It costs the company, the leader, the team many bigger things – passion, dedication, trustworthiness, and above all, it dents the organizational culture for all other employees, new and old.

Well, I made a mistake. I dropped my pennies that day. And I realize it thrice a week now. I am sharing this life and leadership experience, which I learnt the hard way, with you all, so that you can learn from my mistake – in your gardens, and in your organisations…

If you are lucky to have a CB in your home, company and team – value him. Allow him a mistake or two. Even big ones at times. When he does make such a mistake, watch out for how you reprimand; handle the crucial conversation that may go awry and don’t lose it then. Trust me, losing CBs in today world of talent crunch can cost way too much…

Now, its your turn. What do you think? Do share your thoughts…

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4 Responses

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  1. U truly shown. Actually we know the loss after losing him. Patience is big manthra for a leader. And also we will allow mistakes of our loyal employees.

    K Veerraju

    October 15, 2015 at 4:42 PM

    • Thank you, Veerraju. Patience indeed is a virtue for leaders.

      RRGwrites

      November 1, 2015 at 2:17 PM

  2. Thank you so much sir for sharing this valuable lesson of what leadership is, what will differentiate you among others as a better leader & more of as a better person.

    Manit
    MHROD’16

    Manit Sharma

    November 1, 2015 at 2:14 PM

    • Thank you, Manit. It is indeed a valuable leadership lesson learnt.

      RRGwrites

      November 1, 2015 at 2:16 PM


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