A Leadership Question: Have You Watered Your Bamboo Today?

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Have you watered your bamboo today?

When I ask that question, I often get some rather puzzled looks.

What does cultivating a crop of giant timber bamboo have to do with leadership? A lot.

There are over 1,500 species of bamboo, but giant timber bamboo does something pretty amazing. If you water giant timber bamboo in the first year, nothing happens. If you water the second year, nothing happens. If you water the third year, nothing happens. But when you water the bamboo the fourth year, it will rocket up an astonishing 90 feet in only 60 days.

Our immediate gratification culture

Don’t you want that kind of growth in your organization?

Timber bamboo farmers water the seed and tend to it faithfully, diligently, and patiently even though there’s no visible evidence of growth for years. After more than a decade of working with and studying successful people, teams and organizations, I realized how much we can benefit from understanding the principles giant timber bamboo — and the bamboo farmers — teaches us about amazing growth and success.

We have undoubtedly evolved into a culture that worships immediate gratification and the cliché of overnight success, ignoring that “overnight successes” usually come only after years of hard work. Timber bamboo farmers realize it takes many nights to be an overnight success.

Chip Kelly, head coach of the University of Oregon Ducks football team, realizes this as well. After the team finished the 2009 season and was headed to the Rose Bowl (Kelly’s first year as head coach), he explained the impact the water the bamboo philosophy has made on his team.

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“To our players, the analogy of Water The Bamboo is that you have to keep driving, keep playing, and it will pay off in the long run. And that’s what those guys understand.” The Ducks lost the Rose Bowl that season, but continued to water their bamboo. The team went on to finish the 2010 season with a perfect 12-0 record, advanced to the BCS National Championship, and later won the 2012 Rose Bowl.

Ask this question: what’s going well?

While talking recently with a CEO of a company with which I was working, he raised an interesting point. He told me he cannot believe the cynicism in society today. Open your daily paper or flip on the news and the pessimism permeating the stories is evident.

Today’s business climate is challenging, perhaps tougher than it’s been in decades. And, especially as you’re watering the bamboo, patiently waiting for your hard work, patience and diligence to pay off, it’s tempting to let negativity penetrate your crop. After all, it can take some time to see the fruits of your labor. But no organization will survive and thrive if naysayers impede their path toward long-term growth and success.

This is why I tell leaders that the cornerstone of building a corporate culture that embraces the water the bamboo philosophy is having more appreciative conversations — with their colleagues, their staff and themselves. Engaging people in these conversations starts with one simple question: What’s going well? Even the most die-hard negaholics can find something that’s going right for them.

As for me, every day, before my feet hit the ground, I ask, ‘What’s going well?’ Even on my worst day, I can find something that is working and that fuels me for the rest of the day.

Greg Bell, CSP, is a recognized thought leader, author of "Water The Bamboo: Unleashing The Potential Of Teams And Individuals," and founder of the Water The Bamboo Center For Leadership. As an innovator and keen observer of highly successful leaders and teams, he distilled his findings into the WaterThe Bamboo approach to success which has encouraged and inspired thousands of leaders and teams to identify and water their bamboo to create remarkable results. Contact him at greg@waterthebamboo.com.


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