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On old age, treachery and the importance of failure

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Steve Hoogenakker, and originally appeared on his blog (which has the best name of any landscape blog I’ve read).

It was a Friday afternoon in this past November. We were sitting down having pizza in the company War Room.

A young man came in, a new employee on the rise. One of the managers introduced us. He introduced me as “The Big Boss.” People who know me, know I’m uncomfortable with titles, and I don’t think the statement is even important.

In business, titles can sometimes fool the new employees for a time and might scare some others. In both cases, demanding respect of my title will only hinder the efforts of the company and it’s employees. As we were eating the pizza, it got me to thinking. What does this young guy think of me, now that I’m the old guy (51 years old)? Also, what would make him respect me or even listen to what I might have to say? I mean, I was his age once.

Granted I was better looking, more intelligent and knew what real music sounded like, could disco and still believed the Vikings could win the SuperBowl in the 1990s, so surely he would revere every word of advice, right?

When it comes down to experience versus youth, consider one of my favorite beliefs from 1970, Shunryu Suzuki said this: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

It’s an amazing sentence that cuts both ways. Read it again slowly and read between the lines. In it’s simplicity, it is at once advocating youth with it’s many possibilities and also the experts ability to cut through the extra fat of too many possibilities. And it implies warnings for each position as well!

Yes, my youthful counterpart has many ideas. Many ideas I might discount out of hand, using my experience to say why his idea wouldn’t work. Yes, the young man might see things that I have long forgotten. This brings me to my second point. I have forgotten more things about landscaping than this guy has learned. While true, what better opportunity for me to learn what I’ve forgotten than to listen to him?

Being a great leader is very important to your organization, no matter your position. Whether you are the CEO, the Office Manager or a guy with a shovel, leadership starts with you the moment you wake up each morning!

So, why should a new employee listen to someone like me? We’ve determined the title isn’t important. We’ve determined that they might have a different outlook than me, and in some things, even though they don’t disco dance, they may be correct.

I think it boils down to this: “You should respect my ideas, not because of my title and not because of my successes, but because of my failures.” The irony of this statement is that while the older readers are nodding their heads, the younger ones are saying, “What a loser!”

Ask anyone who has worked for me. They will tell you I have made nearly every mistake a leader can make! Not only that, but when it comes to decision making, I’m certain I have repeated more mistakes than my young friend has even had the chance to make. It’s those repeated mistakes that leave their lasting imprint. The scars and the wrinkles were hard earned with each learning experience. These are the events that teach me the choices are few.

At the same time, I have to respect my young associates ideas. Not only do I want to encourage him, I have to work even harder than he at keeping an open mind. After all, his mind is a floodgate of ideas, while mine is a focused “narrow” stream with the emphasis on narrow.

Suzuki also said this: “Our tendency is to be interested in something that is growing in the garden, not in the bare soil itself. But if you want to have a good harvest, the most important thing is to make the soil rich and cultivate it well.”

As green industry professionals, we know this to be true. It’s almost 2012. To grow your business, make the soil rich with the wisdom of some and cultivate the ideas and enthusiasm of youth as the basis for your success!

Written by CBOWEN@GIE.NET

December 21st, 2011 at 1:37 pm