30
Apr
2011

Master Gardeners & Chief Executives

Chuck Halbower wasn’t afraid of anything – he was the most self-confident person I’ve ever met.  He relished change and was a firm believer in “repotting” yourself every 10 years as a mechanism to force change.  He had a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, so I figured he knew what he was talking about and bought into his theory!

We both worked at Arthur D. Little, Inc. a technology management consulting firm in Cambridge, MA.  Five years after we were married, we moved to Boulder, CO.  Ten years later we moved to Kansas City, ten years later moved back to Boulder, and in the past decade, we lived in Auckland New Zealand twice.  Whether it was fate, opportunity, or intent, we kept repotting ourselves!

Recent research on the brain indicates that it is highly “plastic” and is able to continue to grow, if appropriately stimulated.  While it may be a little easier to learn when we’re young, there’s no age limit on learning new skills, languages, behavior patterns – in fact, doing so actually stimulates our brain  - and that enables us to learn even more!

When you think about it – isn’t that what repotting is – changing environments (changing pots), stimulating your brain (putting in fresh soil), and growing your capacity – for learning, gaining knowledge, expanding empathy, and increasing happiness?

When CEOs ask me to help them figure out why their companies aren’t growing, I often find companies that have forgotten how to respond to customer’s needs and wants, don’t have the discipline of planning and execution, have inadequate systems, and may have people who aren’t able to take the company to the next level.  In short, the company clearly needs a new pot, some pruning, new soil, fertilizer, and a more skillful master gardener.

And the amazing thing about plants, brains – and companies – is that they respond very positively to change– if it’s done right! Without question changing a culture is not easy, but fixing a broken culture can rejuvenate a company. Challenging (or changing) people who aren’t performing or are toxic to your culture is tough, but doing so has the same effect as a shot of fertilizer.  And when CEOs ‘get it”, that they need to change their leadership roles and responsibilities as the company grows, the company takes on a new life, and growth accelerates.

Like the master gardener, the CEO needs to know when it’s time to repot, to add new soil, to prune dead branches, and to add fertilizer.  Repotting is as good for companies as it is for plants and people.