One can never underestimate the beauty of a good metaphor. While attending a dream workshop this week, I was reintroduced to the idea of companion gardening. I am sure many of you have heard the benefits of planting marigolds by your tomato plants or other vegetables in order to deter pests and bugs. Avid gardeners have researched hundreds of plants to determine which plants actually support one another in productive ways and which are detrimental to each other. Essentially, which plants are friends and which are foes.

The overarching lesson of this approach is that some partnerships or companions, when in proximity of each other, maximize the health of both plants. Others actually act as antagonists and ruin the flavor and production of vegetables and flowers. For example, beans thrive when planted near carrots, cucumbers and potatoes, but when grown near onions, they will absorb a distasteful flavor. Fennel is a loner herb and needs to be planted in isolation of other plants as it can actually stifle growth for certain (most) vegetables. Alternatively, garlic next to roses and raspberries improves both their growth and flavor.

Now that I’ve provided a helpful gardening lesson, my actual reason for writing about this topic today is to align this concept to our work. Nature serves as a powerful metaphor, not only in our leadership, but in our relationships. In the workplace and in relationship to each other, we act in very similar ways. There are some people and/or structures in the workplace which strengthen us and our ability to be effective. There are others who represent our “fennel”; they serve an important purpose, but they limit our ability to grow and perform to our best. As leaders, we see these very characteristics surface in our teams as well. Some members of our team operate as super companions, others are always in conflict.

When I speak to this concept, I also use the words people or structures very deliberately.  It’s often easier to identify the people in our lives who either support or hinder us, but naming those structures becomes more difficult.  We all have certain environments in which we thrive, certain structural elements in the workplace that support us. Peas need a trellis and tomatoes require a cage. In addition to considering your “companions”, it can also be valuable to reflect on structures which allow you to flourish.

So, I ask you today. . .

  • Who in your life are your companions; those people who are planted near you, support your growth, encourage you to flourish and bring out the best in you?
  • Who is not planted next you currently but needs to be? Who has energy and support that you might benefit from for your own development? These could be coaches or mentors that you need in your life right now, friends or family who you might want to draw closer or individuals who you need, but haven’t named yet.
  • Who are the antagonists in your life that you might want to plant a little farther away? Like fennel, they may serve a strong purpose, but having them too close is not advantageous to your growth. This might be a friend or family member. This could even be a co-worker or your boss.
  • How might you “plant” companions differently to better support your own growth and development? How might you ensure that you can bloom and flourish and that you have structures in place to guide your path?

Note: While most of our work at Innovative Connections is about aligning organizations, leaders and teams, it is important to remember that before we serve in any defined role (parent, employee, leader), we are above all human. Understanding our “humanness” is foundational to our ability to be effective in all the roles we play as people.