Turning Failure into Success
Leadership Lessons from the Garden
by Jocelyn Little
I nurtured it. I cared for it. I spent time and energy helping it to grow and get strong. It still died.
Seven months ago I stumbled across a beautiful plant that had deep red, maple shaped leave resembling a Japanese maple tree, but with vibrant red flowers like a hibiscus. It intrigued me and I had to have it! I spent time researching what it was and how to get seeds for this gorgeous plant. It was a red maple leaf hibiscus plant (named exactly what it looks like!)
When I got my seeds, I was eager to start growing it. I did some quick research on the plant itself. My mom, who lives in Hawaii, said those plants sprout easily all over her yard, simply from seed droppings. I thought, “Then how hard can it be?”
Within days, I had sprouts! I transplanted them into pots with soil and cared for them carefully. They began to grow, though rather slowly. My excitement grew as I saw the plant grow! However, they then began to wilt, and eventually died. While I was disappointed, it was only my first try. So, I tried again…and again…and again. What was I doing wrong? I researched more, watched some videos, read some articles, but with this hibiscus not being very common, my resources were limited. I modified my approach slightly to see if I can become successful. Nothing worked.
My mom grows them like wild flowers…in the tropical environment of Hawaii. I live in the Mojave Desert. Quite polar opposite environments! I began to experiment with trying to replicate the environment of my mom’s garden.
By the third month, I had a few successful sprouts that lived longer than previous sprouts. A small win for me! While I celebrated that small win, I kept focus on the bigger goal, while celebrating incremental successes. Two of the three successful plants succumbed to the harsh desert environment one by one. I had one plant left standing by month five. I continued to care for and nurture the plant, knowing the conditions that hibiscus’ favor. I am now at month seven and have a healthy maturing plant! It now requires less constant care from me and is thriving on its own with minimal, routine care from time to time. I can now focus on sprouting more plants.
As I sat here with pride of how well my red maple leaf hibiscus is doing, I reflected on how this is much like leadership. It's not easy. We can care for and nurture those we lead constantly, however, if we aren’t paying attention to what our people are saying to us, showing us, needing from us individually, all of the time and energy we put into taking care of them may not make a difference and we can still lose them, whether they leave the team or just simply check out mentally and emotionally. Your intentions may be coming from the right place, but without awareness of what is really happening around you with your people, your most valuable asset, you may be putting effort in the wrong places.
Failure is a part of life, and it is a part of leadership. There is no perfect life, no perfect leader, no perfect person. However, our choice on what we do with these failures are more important than the failure itself. If we learn from it, grow from it, adapt with it, failures can be what leads to success. Failures don’t necessarily need to be a negative thing as long as we have the perseverance, heart and grit to stick it out and move forward.
I have often asked my mentor, founder of Blue Courage, Michael Nila, why does he keep saying the same things over and over. It can be very frustrating when we have to repeat ourselves and nothing changes within our team or the change moves at a snails pace. His response was always the same — as a leader, we cannot stop repeating the messages. We cannot stop teaching and showing our people what needs to be done, because at the end of the day, while it is easier and faster to do it ourselves, we cannot do everything, certainly not with quality and efficiency. There isn’t enough hours in a day and it would drive you to insanity. While accountability is equally as important, we must develop our people and trust them to do what we hired them to do; and we must find that balance. So, often it means repeating our efforts — keep replanting the seeds — and one day, the seed will grow and they will embrace what we have been preaching all along. When that day comes, it is the next step of growth that allows them to thrive more on their own, and allows you as the leader to shift your focus to other areas.
Don’t mistake the fact that they still will need attention and care from leadership — that never should stop, just as my hibiscus will die if I neglect it — but they will begin to take their own lead, they will flourish into a productive, more vibrant and resilient version of themselves. And, if we continue to provide a nurturing, caring environment conducive for growth, they will continue to blossom into the super stars we know they can be.
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