Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Toxic leadership

Earlier this week I wrote about toxic leadership over on my more logical purchasing coach site.

The challenge around using the term 'toxic' is everyone can identify others who are toxic, and no one self identifies themselves as toxic. In the following blog 'is your head in the sand' I encouraged everyone to explore the hidden and unknown character traits that, even if not toxic, might be negatively impacting others in their life.

I then got to wondering - if metaphor is such a powerful tool - what would happen if we explored toxic leadership in terms of toxicity in nature. 

If you're unclear of the hows and whys of metaphors you might want to first read my blog on the topic

I'm not a professional environmentalist nor botanist, so just a reminder it's only going to be my personal observations about what we could learn from toxic plants. Who knows, there may be some nuggets in here.

I'm struck by the fact that there's two types of toxicity in nature - the natural, and the man made. I suspect we'll find insight in both. In this post I'm going to concentrate on natural toxins. 

Here's my observations about toxic plants (we'll draw analogies later - it's always best to stick with the metaphor for as long as possible) :

  • The first question to ask is toxic to whom or what? For example what's toxic to humans may not be to birds, in the same way that certain plants are toxic to our cats and dogs, but not to us.
  • Toxicity also comes as a continuum - with some plants simply causing mild irritation, and other's death. Or some only causing a reaction after contact with, or ingestion of, a large quantity of the plant. 
  • Toxicity may also only be of certain parts of a plant - for example we can eat a rhubarb's stem but not their leaves.
  • Many toxic plants are very colourful as if warning others of their potential for harm, or on contact or ingestion provide advance warning that further contact might not be advisable. 
  • Toxic plants are predominately toxic to protect themselves. As they couldn't run away they had to come up with a strategy to stop animals eating them.
  • Apparently toxicity can increase due to location, age and other environmental factors! 
  • Toxicity can also reduce over time, with repeated contact or ingestion.
  • Some plants are toxic until cooked after which they're harmless.
  • Some toxic plants have an antidote near by - think nettles and dock leaves.
  • Many toxins are the basis for medicines - conventional or alternative.
What conclusions does that mean I think we can make - still keeping with the metaphor ish:

  • Toxic plants need to be reminded that the environment in which they're operating in means there's now an increasing number of people negatively impacted - perhaps inviting them to tone back their toxicity or warn others before ingestion.
  • Toxic plants should be congratulated on succeeding at finding ways to personally stay alive - the key here has to be to expand the number of plants they're taking responsibility for and are wanting to survive. For them to notice that it's not just personal survival that's important, even the air and water they rely on needs to be sustained over the long term.
  • Toxic plants are a problem when planted in the wrong environment - they don't suddenly become toxic - they are toxic when in known conditions, and in a response to known stimuli. The criteria for selection of plants needs to include checking for toxicity. 
  • Putting toxic plants under pressure (ie cooking them) can reduce their toxicity - we just need to know the type of stress that reduces toxicity rather than increases it. 
  • In the right environment a toxic plant causes no harm to others, and may even be of medical use.
  • Not quite accurate, due to the length of time needed to let go of the toxic DNA, but if the toxic plant doesn't feel threatened it may not need its toxicity.
  • Ensure others around the plant are available to reduce the impact. 
  • Be very clear on the reason and benefits to be generated by planting a toxic plant - Ie undertake a risk/cost/benefit analysis.
  • Don't keep touching or eating a toxic plant if you've had an adverse reaction to them in the past - leave them be - walk away and work in another garden. 
Nothing too profound although it's as if it's taken the sting out of my views of toxic leaders. Instead of feeling irritated and angry by them, I just feel like I need to put my protective gloves on, and handle them with a little more care. 

Did you notice anything as you read the post? Do please share your personal insights in comments below.

The beauty about metaphors is they're very personal - someone who's spent time in hospital due to eating a toxic plant would view the metaphor differently than someone who's just seen its toxic impact on others. The aim is to move how you're relating to the situation at the current time (Ie negatively or unable to see solutions or options) to something different, a 'different' that includes the possibility of positive change. 

Remembering of course that we can't change other people, only change our reaction to them, even if that in turn inspires a change in behaviour from them. 

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Using nature to inspire change inside and out 

Follow hypertext links to other blogs I've written on the subject highlighted. 

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