LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM THE WORLD OF PLANTS

Real life stories excite us all. Learning as you go from life’s experiences is fascinating. Sharing ones experiences is even better. My work life has always been in the so called “exciting sectors” of financial services, investments, private equity and aerospace. However all that excitement is nothing compared to the sector I am presently involved in and that is the “living” sector. Plants to be precise. Desert Group of which I am part of, has the largest plants nurseries in the MENA region, growing and selling more than 175 species in the region. Well, such a sector would sound boring to most. Totally opposite. A dramatically different learning experience unfolds each moment in this world of plants and what it teaches you as leaders and managers. It’s fascinating to see how nature has all the leadership lessons one would want. If we could be more open minded, observant and broaden our learning. Some of these learnings I would like to share with you. You will find them interesting!

A little background at this point would help. Running some of the largest plant nurseries in a very hot and arid region like the Middle East is a challenge, infact a real challenge. Yet, Desert Group a concentrically diversified organization had an idea to start a plant nursery 27 years ago in this region. Irrigation techniques were nothing like what exists today, plant nutrients were traditional and investing in a risky venture as this would have needed some real entrepreneurial spirit. Today, Desert Group has the largest plant nurseries in the Middle East and positively impacts the many lives both directly and indirectly in the many countries it operates in. So what does it take to conceive, build and run what can be considered an impactful business?

For those in leadership and managerial positions the big lessons is to “create the right environment”.  Plants will only thrive in the right environment. The selection, temperature, nutrients, trimming, soil conditions, sunlight, water and all the many variables have to be understood, considered and set in place for plants to thrive and yield fruit and flower. It’s a constant process.

It’s the same in organizations where team members can only deliver their best if one creates the right environment. Are we aware of what it takes to create the right environment? We all want superlative results, an innovative organization and an engaged workforce but rarely are aware of what it takes to help create a conducive environment. And even if we did, are we constantly at it, modifying, introducing, monitoring the environment in our organizations? Pause at this moment and reflect. There is a lesson here.

Growing plants is hard work. You are dealing with living things. It’s a daily grind, managing all the variables. The disregard of even one variable impacts its life.  If you want the best orchard or crop or fruit yielding plant you need to be constantly watching and vigilant of all that matters. There is no let up! You would have to strategically intervene and treat a sick plant or decide when to weed it out, you need to look at the soil conditions and the weather and the list goes on.  It’s the same with all of those in leadership and managerial roles. Do we provide the required care and attention to all the factors that make successful organizations? Daily? A tough call and it does need hard work! We must be prepared to go that extra mile.

Plants teach you humility and continuous learning if you are to succeed. As odd that this many sound it’s true. You cannot impose your ideas on plants but must work with them identifying, regulating and moderating the required to help them grow beautifully. And yet you fail many times before that happy moment when you think “Yes its working”. You would have to understand why you would have failed and modify assumptions along the way until you succeed. One has to mould one’s perception, ideas, and applications to see what works best. This needs listening and collaborating. It needs humility to accept knowledge from all around realizing that you do not have all the answers. Now this is a real test in the world of leadership and management. Do we let our ego’s go? Do we listen? Collaborate? Or Impose?

I guess that should be enough for the moment with a promise to return with a few more learnings from the world of plants. However, I would like to conclude by saying that in life we each have beautiful experiences that can be applied to the roles we choose in the organizations that we work in. As long as we choose to be observant, open minded and learn, daily, we will develop the necessary tools to be successful. The world of plants is one place that has life lessons!

Michael Mascarenhas, Group CEO - Desert Group