CEOs draw leadership lessons from gardening
From team management to patience, gardening can teach managers many things
Everyone loves greenery. But not many like to get their hands dirty. Gardening takes time, effort and a lot of patience. But a growing group of leaders around the country is warming up to the idea of having a garden not just at home, but also at their workplace. For them, their gardens are not just green spots to be left in the care of gardeners. These are places to relax, to think of new ideas, to learn patience and find focus.
The seed of the thought
Heading a brand that is synonymous with the outdoors, and even has a tree as its logo, Harkirat Singh, managing director of footwear and apparel company Woodland, says being in the garden and working with plants is therapeutic. He has two gardens, which house about 2,500 plants (including planters). Both gardens include various types of flowers, shrubs and herbs such as rosemary, basil and cilantro. Singh’s childhood was spent in the midst of mango and lime trees in their Delhi house and that has led to a lifelong love for nature.
Obviously, for those interested in gardening there is a lot of learning involved, considering two plants require completely different amounts of water, sunlight and fertilizers. Singh says he picks up a lot of tips from his wife, who is also a keen gardener, as well as a hired help who looks after the garden. “You need to be ready to learn and trust, and depend on others who might know better than you,” he adds.
Staying in close proximity to nature is de-stressing for most people. It is a way to take time off from a frantic pace of life. “But more than that, it is one of the few activities where you create something in front of your eyes. Unlike, say a painting, where once the artwork is done you will not be as involved, in gardening, you need to keep paying attention and nurse the plants,” explains Amit Desai, consulting psychiatrist at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai.
For Shriti Malhotra, chief operating officer of skincare and cosmetics company Body Shop, gardening is a way to take her mind off the daily chores and routine. “When you are concentrating on something like growing a plant, you de-stress because it takes your attention off your stressful work life,” she says. Malhotra’s terrace garden has over 500 plants and she spends at least an hour every day, and more on the weekends, taking care of them. She has a mix of perennials (Burmese creepers, bougainvilleas), vegetables and seasonal flowers.
“Because of the slow, methodical pace of gardening, you learn patience. Nothing happens in a day—be it in the garden or in your professional life. We are used to driving commitments, driving closure of projects, etc. But we have to let work take the time that it requires, for the result to be of a certain quality,” says Malhotra.
It isn’t just home gardens that leaders are looking at for stress busting. Live entertainment and production company, Navrasa Duende, redesigned its office with some landscape work. The entrance to the office itself is through a green tunnel—a variety of plants and flowers throng this walkway. A garden surrounds the parking and the cafeteria, an indoor atrium with a wall fountain spans from the seventh to the ground floor, and lots of smaller plants can be seen in the office space. Several varieties of palms, money plants and bamboos, as well as flowering cactus, Tecoma and bougainvillea flowers, can be seen in and around the office.
“Our office is in an industrial area. The nature of our job, however, requires us to be creative and think out of the box. We wanted to create an office environment that is peaceful, nature friendly. Being surrounded by greens helps most of the members to think creatively,” says Dinesh Singh, founder of Navrasa Duende. While the redesign was done by a professional, Singh did give his inputs on how the office should look, keeping his love for nature in the midst of it all.
Lessons from the garden
Gardening is a good way to learn leadership lessons, feel most of corporate leaders who take the activity seriously. “Unlike a farmer who sees the crop as one, one bush of grain no different from another and treats them alike, a gardener has a personal, intimate relationship with each plant in the garden,” says Subroto Bagchi, co-founder of Mindtree and chairman of Odisha Skill Development Authority, drawing a parallel between leadership and gardening. He says that a gardener can tell the weeds from actual plants, like a leader must. “And uproot the weeds so they don’t overrun the garden. Sometimes take out and burn the tree infected by a borer so others can be saved—it has its organizational equivalence,” adds Bagchi.
It isn’t just limited to that. Singh, from of Woodlands draws a comparison between team building and tending to his plants. During his travels, he has often picked up flowering plants like tulips from Europe. However, the weather conditions in Delhi did not always suit them. What he means is each person has a unique skill and cannot be expected to master or survive all situations. Similarly, according to Singh, identifying the core strengths of an individual is important for his/her growth . “Team building and sustaining that thriving team is an important leadership skill. A smart and understanding mentor will identify the key forte of each resource and channel them in that direction to achieve optimal results in each field. It is unwarranted to expect everything out of everyone in every situation as different people strive in different environments and roles,” he explains.
Be it a terrace garden or an office green nook, the proximity to nature helps people be calm. Malhotra of Body Shop also believes that gardening helps in problem solving. When plants wilt and die, one often has to figure out why they did not survive—was the soil not right, was the external climate not suitable, was the water level harmful, etc. “Similarly, in workplaces it is important to look at the environment in which employees are functioning, the support factors that they have and the enablers that help them grow healthily,” she adds.
Being close to nature even in a small way, has its benefits and the corporate world is waking up to it.
Create your own garden
If you are feeling stressed at work, consider keeping a small meditation garden for yourself.
Any plant should help create the effect of keeping you calm. Key is to keep the garden clean and free from unnecessary accessories or clutter.
Preferably keep it open to the sky. If it is indoor (like inside the office), then keep the garden well ventilated.
—Smita D. Shirodkar, founder, Earthaholics
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