Creative LeadershipCreativity

You May Need a Bigger Bucket

Kathleen and I have had a ficus tree on our back deck for years.  It’s always sat in a huge pot and grown from something really small into a pretty big tree.  Over and over we’ve had to re-pot it into larger and larger buckets.  But a few months ago it died – because we didn’t keep up with it’s need for a bigger bucket.  I’ve probably replanted that tree 3 or 4 times, because as it grows, it takes more soil, nutrients, and space.

I think there’s a lesson here: If you expect to grow, you need to expand your surroundings. You can’t grow without more nutrients, and the space to spread your roots. This is also a good lesson for leaders.

Growth doesn’t happen in confined spaces. And it’s not just about physical space.  If you want your team to grow and be more effective, then let them expand their experience and give them the nutrients they need in the form of classes, better equipment, conferences, and learning opportunities.

Getting to the next level sometimes means getting a bigger bucket.


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  1. great focus here. so many times we look at the nutrients, and watering, and totally forget about the physical limitations. in a way, the fertilizer enhanced the growth, ie eventually lead to the untimely demise. there must be an equal balance across the board.

  2. Here’s an addendum to your example. We have ficus trees, too. They have a lot of room in our yeard to spread their root system out. Sadly, when we planted them we forgot that there was already a well-established well-laid out system of drains and pipes in place beneath the soil, so as the ficus roots spread, what was already in place was damaged beyond repair and had to be replaced. Lesson learned: unfettered, unchecked growth can lead to destruction. Allow growth, but monitor it and don’t allow it to wrap itself around and strangle what’s already in place.

  3. Confinement, restriction and dumbing down has all but taken my last breath in my too small bucket for the past four years. This is a very true analogy you wrote. Change is going to happen via a bigger bucket this year; I’m not ready to die. Thanks for writing this. Love your book “Jolt!” and putting it into practice.

  4. I agree, the way we allow other’s to set our potential can kill us. That tree should have jumped out of the pot!

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