People Development: The Bamboo Parable
(Note: I am using a story well-known in motivational circles to drive home a point in leadership and people development, with a principled approach. If you think you’ve heard the story, please read this with a fresh set of eyes…)
In virtually every organization there are people who seem to never learn or grow. Oftentimes we classify them as disengaged, subversive, or troublemakers, and look to dismiss them.
I have realized throughout my career there are a fair number of people that have slow learning curves which takes them a while to learn the fundamentals of their job. Yet I have been amazed at how many have blossomed over time into solid team members and even became strong leaders in their own right.
What was the cause for the transformation? They had a growth curve similar to a bamboo tree.
When a bamboo tree is planted and watered it doesn’t sprout for the first year, or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth. It takes five full years for the typical bamboo plant to finally break ground.
Once it does, it is actually one of the fastest growing plants in the world, sometimes growing at a rate of 35 inches in a day.
What is the cause for this tremendous growth?
In the course of the four-year period of seeming nothingness, the tree is growing a complex underground network of roots. These roots are so vast and extensive, that if you were to uproot a grown tree you would find it difficult to do so because of the root system.
It’s roots store all that water and nutrients, and create a myriad of conduits to support the rapid growth of the tree when it’s time has come.
And when the tree has come to full maturity, it possesses a denser strength than brick or concrete and a higher tensile strength than steel.
Sit back and think of the people in your organization that don’t seem to be growing. Are they working hard? Listening? Are they staying loyal, staying put with your company?
These people might actually be growing under the surface in ways you may not notice. These could be future impact players who, with the right combination of water and nutrients – training, encouragement, and entrusted responsibility – could shoot up from their place and make their presence known.
Just because we don’t see anything happening on the outside – stellar performance, heads nodding in agreement, skills being mastered in our timeframe – does not mean your people are not learning and growing. They may very well be developing some strong roots underneath.
Invest your time into everybody. Don’t be prejudiced by the outward displays of growth and performance. You just might discover some people ripe for rapid growth.
People that will be strong as steel – or a bamboo tree – in their value and loyalty to your organization.