Boosters : Plant nothing and weeds will grow

A former mentor and boss of mine said this to me early in our relationship and not only has it stuck with me, but I’ve found myself referencing it in coaching sessions and other interactions with my clients recently.

Plant nothing and weeds will grow.

Six little words with a depth of meaning and interpretation behind them.

The most common context in which this statement springs to mind is in time management. I’ve been working with senior leaders in a large organisation recently who want to introduce a coaching culture which includes the opportunity for Team Leaders to conduct ‘spur of the moment’ coaching sessions with their people. The Team Leaders like the idea in principle but the common refrain is ‘I don’t have time’.

We all like to be busy. Indeed, busy-ness is a badge of pride in many organisations. It’s for this reason that in low activity times, we will generally find things to do. These things then become part of our routine, part of our habit, and when we are challenged to think about the things that we could not do in order to make more time for other things, we cling on as though our whole sense of being, our purpose, will crumble – because these are the things that underpin our working day and our working identity.

Yet these are not necessarily the things that are truly adding value – to us, our teams or our customers. Nor are these the things that will challenge and develop us. We are programmed to take the path of least resistance so we will invariably choose the things that come easiest to us and then justify their value retrospectively, even if we actually find them quite dull.

Another angle on this statement is the concept of deliberate vs emergent growth.

The very act of planting something infers vision (what am I aiming to grow, what will it look and feel like), research (what are the options, will one of those work for me, do I need to create something new?), environment (what are the conditions of growth, of success? What might the challenges be in growing this? How do I mitigate these?) and so on. Leaving the space empty means that I am leaving to chance what happens. A great unknown.

For me, the initial inference of plant and weeds is that plant is ‘good’ and weeds is ‘bad’. But of course, what grows in place of the plant may in fact be far better, or something you never even considered to plant in the first place. Or indeed it could be something that doesn’t compliment or support the other things around it, drains the environment or even be poisonous.

If you plant nothing, weeds will grow. What does this statement conjure up for you? What have you planted that you are nurturing and supporting in its growth? And what weeds are ready to be discarded in place of new growth?