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Growth, time and attention

Posted on 22 February 2018
Towards the end of his memoir, Shoe Dog, Nike founder Phil Knight tells of a conversation with the CEO of Nissho, Masuro Hayami. He describes him as "Perhaps the wisest man I ever knew".

As they sat in a hot tub after a barbecue in the backyard of Hayami's beach house near Atami, Japan, Knight was complaining about the challenges he faced at Nike even after taking the Nike company public.

"We have so much opportunity," he told Hayami. "But we're having a terrible time getting managers who can seize those opportunities. We try people from the outside, but they fail, because our culture is so different."

"Mr. Hayami nodded. 'See those bamboo trees up there?' he asked. 'Yes.' 'Next year when you come they will be one foot higher.' I stared. I understood. When I returned to Oregon I tried hard to cultivate and grow the management team we had, slowly, with more patience, with an eye toward more training and more long-term planning. I took the wider, longer view. It worked. The next time I saw Hayami, I told him. He merely nodded, once, hai, and looked off."

The story highlights the natural frustration we often feel with ourselves and others when we face gaps between the limitations of our present reality and where we feel we need to be. It also reminds us that growth and time are inextricably linked. If we value what growth enables then we also have to accept that time enables growth. And that we need to value both the investment of time and the process of growth as they apply to ourselves and others.

Hayami and Knight are not the only ones to draw inspiration from the garden when it comes to thinking about growth and time in developing ourselves and others.

The great Nelson Mandela, in The Long Walk to Freedom, reflected on his years of tending a garden. "In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the result. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed."

While the year is still relatively new, and as we anticipate the change in seasons, the garden provides an interesting way of considering growth and success.

The environment is a key element. The soil, position and climate all affect the development and health of plants. Some environments are more amenable than others; different plants thrive in different conditions; sometimes the soil needs to be more carefully prepared, enriched or even rehabilitated before growth can occur. Organisational culture can be like that too.

Care and cultivation are the ongoing work of the gardener. And the leader. As Mandela observed, there's a responsibility that goes well beyond simply sticking something into position; there's a continuing duty that includes careful observation (not just of the plant but also the conditions), nurture, protection from threats, and occasional pruning for strength. Developing individuals, teams and ourselves requires a similar ongoing commitment.

And then there's planting for the future. In addition to nurturing what we have now, we also have to do the careful work of investing in the future. We know that some things we plant will not even appear above the ground for weeks or months. Nurturing new growth will take extra effort in the early stages. Some may not flourish. Some will not grow as tall or elegantly as we'd hoped. And some will surprise us and even outlive us.

As Phil Knight was reminded by the wise Masuro Hayami, it's important to remember that what we have now is the product of what has been cultivated to this point. It's growth to this point should not be taken for granted. Nor can its continuing growth and development be neglected. Beyond our current limitations or frustrations with ourselves and others there are the realities of time and growth. Both require our investment of attention and energy.

What growth will you see a year from now?...

Aubrey Warren

Situational Leadership® Master Trainer and Australia and New Zealand Affiliate for the Center for Leadership Studies

© Copyright Aubrey Warren 2017


Knight, Phil. (2016). Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
Mandela, N. (1994). Long Walk to Freedom

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