Paul Butler: Lessons from the garden

Paul Butler
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For the past few weeks we had my in-laws — Josie and Trevor — visit.

They’ve flown across the pond several times to see us, and, so, we made a concerted effort to go places we’ve never shown them before. One of our new findings was a beautiful botanical garden, not far from home.

We had a glorious day and, as a keen gardener, Trevor especially loved it. When we returned home and sat down for a spot of tea to reflect upon the day, I could see so many parallels with the workplace.

Stroll with me into the gardens…

The first employee we met was Mary at the welcome kiosk. She was very enthused to tell us about the gardens she evidently loved. Mary was quite new in her job. She wasn’t sure of one particular factoid about the park and so, checked in with a colleague who unfortunately, didn’t share the same zest for work as Mary.

Isn’t that often the case in the working world — where some employees may become jaded and cynical? They often resent the enthusiasm of new employees. It’ll be interesting to go back to the gardens next year and see whether Mary’s still there and if she is, observe her demeanor. I hope Mary doesn’t get dragged down.

The second employee we met was Annie, as we headed into the gardens. She volunteered to take our family photograph even though we hadn’t asked her. Annie anticipated our need before we asked. Isn’t that the epitome of superb service — being able to anticipate customer needs? We later learned Annie had recently lost her husband of many decades, but rather than wallowing at home in her misery, had decided instead to come serve her customers. Annie had a wonderful spirit about her — I sense she saw beyond the temporal.

Being from England originally, we gravitated toward the rose gardens. Isn’t it often like that in the workplace? We move towards what we’re most familiar with? On the negative side, this is where we see cliques in the workplace — it can be very high school-ish. People tend to be most comfortable with people just like them — people who have the same interests, and see the world the way we do. My observation has been that exemplary entities work hard to break down this innate human condition that causes division and in doing so, bring out the beauty and diversity of the whole garden.

We were concerned when we looked into the koi pond, as we were pretty sure we saw two dead fish lying on their side. The other fish kept their distance. My wife encouraged me to say something to one of the staff members, but I didn’t. In hindsight, I can see the parallels with the workplace — some people quit but they still come to work. Good work colleagues don’t like to be around bad employees who metaphorically-speaking, are lying on their side. Sadly, in some organizations, no one ever speaks up about the dead fish and after awhile they begin to rot if not removed by the gardening supervisor.

We were excited about going into the 22-room mansion at the top of the park but then saddened to hear it was closed to an exclusive private function. I see this so often when consulting with organizations. They tell me, they’re looking to: “Build a more inclusive and open culture” but keep secrets; they don’t share information freely and have some perks that are only accessible to the elite within the upper echelons of the ivory towers. Effectively, such organizations have a 22-room mansion, closed off to the minions.

We decided to take lunch at the gardens and although the food was splendid, I was sickened to overhear three employees loudly gossiping about colleagues on the table next to us. I was aghast to notice that one of the ladies had the title of Treasurer on her name badge. She was gossiping about how much money the organization had paid out to an owner of one of the concession stands in earned commission. Not only is this very unprofessional, as the custodian of the garden’s finances but gossip is like a toxic poison within an entity — it feeds the enemy within.

Someone once said: “We make our choices and then our choices make us” and I was reminded of this principle during our stroll around these beautiful botanical gardens, not far from home.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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