Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Moral Imperative of Intentionality - a leadership lesson from the noxious weed world

In my part of the great American Southwest there’s a terrible weed called tribulus terrestris. Roughly translated it means “pointy weapon of the earth”. We call them goat heads because of their shape and pointy horns. These burrs are worse than their cactus neighbors because they hitch a ride on clothing and drop strategically inside the house in places most likely to be traversed by bare feet. I find it no coincidence that the devil himself is often symbolized by a goat’s head.

After spending a good bit of time wresting them from my yard and gravel drive I began to think about the ease with which they seem to exist. Unlike the cool green grass I try to nurture and grow, or the tiny tremulous tomato plants we fed and watered, the pernicious weeds just got haphazardly dropped in the worst soil on the property and settled in for a long season. I case there is a chance of missing the metaphor, weeds are the damaging attitudes and behaviors in an organization in contrast to a carefully crafted workplace culture.  Here are a few lessons that occurred to me as I stabbed at those wicked roots in the hot sun:

Weeds are lazy and lucky
The things that leaders want, such as loyalty, performance, congruence with the mission, are things that must be nurtured, cared for, and maintained. We can seek to hire people with these qualities but maintaining desired behavior and attitudes is a constant process of growth. Low morale and sloppy work are insidious and barely noticeable but take root in any crevice they find.

Weeds are selfish
Annoying burrs don’t like to work for a living. They take their nutrients from the good plants. The beautiful and helpful growth will be weakened by the weeds. Not only do the weeds need to be stopped, killed, or removed, but the healthy plants must be protected. Pulling weeds near roses can damage the rose bush unless it happens early and carefully

Weeds cause unseen damage
I often am blissfully unaware of the goat head in the driveway until I unwittingly carry a burr into the house where, days later, I discover it in the sole of my bare foot during a 2 a.m. trek to the kitchen. Suddenly my whole attention is directed not only to removing the thorn from my paw, but also planning a venture into the dark web to purchase a nuclear device to rid the planet of tribulus terrestris. But a temporary rage against the annoyance solves nothing. Neither does a brief nuclear attack on the immediate problem. Cultivation and care is the key.

What are the weeds in your agency?
To apply the lessons of weed control the first quest is to find out what the weeds are and where they are hiding. After that comes not only an effort at eradication, but a renewed effort at nurturing the plants that need to be healthy and useful for a healthy environment.