Misplaced Optimism

Facing Potential Dangers in Your Organisation

Many years ago I purchased some lily bulbs and planted them in a pot that sits on our deck. Each year just before Christmas we are treated to a magnificent display of vibrant red lilies. Last year, I noticed that my lily pot had acquired an agapanthus. It was only small and I optimistically decided that its green leaves added interest to the pot.

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Just before last Christmas I noticed my lily display wasn’t nearly as vibrant as usual. I also noticed that the agapanthus had continued to grow. I tried to pull it out, but it was stuck hard and because I was worried about damaging the lilies, I figured my best bet was to wait until the lily stalks had died off before removing the agapanthus.

Jooshing up the pots on our deck was top of my job list for Easter. Approaching the lily pot I began to enthusiastically attack the agapanthus but despite my best efforts I couldn’t budge it at all. I decided my only option was to upend the pot. I carefully tipped the pot onto the deck expecting the

lily bulbs to fall out. Only they didn’t. In fact I couldn’t even find them as the agapanthus’ root system had taken over the whole pot. It took me nearly two hours to cut through the agapanthus roots in order to free the lily bulbs.

Now imagine how easy jooshing up my lily pot would have been if I’d dealt with the agapanthus when it first appeared? But I didn’t. I optimistically hoped that by ignoring it, the problem would resolve itself, but as I now know, it didn’t. Did you know that agapanthus are one of New Zealand’s most popular flowers, and also our most visible invasive weeds? It turns out they choke our natives as well as my
lilies.

Did you also know that sometimes we have agapanthus in our organisations and like their botanic counterpart, they can be popular whilst also being an invasive weed, choking the positivity out of organisations? Do you recognise any of these agapanthus?

The Gossip
Gossips pass on information about others that is not theirs to share. On the surface, these agapanthus appear popular as some people really enjoy hearing the juicy tidbits about their colleagues.

The Bully
Bullies who use positional or organisational power to make the lives of those they target miserable. These agapanthus can also appear popular because many people are scared that if they don’t stay on the good side of a bully, they too, will become a target.

The Truth Twister
These clever agapanthus take the truth and artfully twist it to mean something completely different. They are sometimes difficult to identify since shreds of truth are woven into their words. Disgruntled people find these agapanthus to be very attractive.

The Moonwalker
Moonwalkers give the impression of being on board with change but when no-one is looking, they carry on doing what they’ve always done. The trick to dealing with any agapanthus you uncover on the team is to nip their behaviour in the bud as soon as you spot it. The temptation
might be to ignore what is happening, optimistically hoping that the agapanthus will change their ways. The problem with doing this is that the longer the agapanthus is allowed to flourish, the deeper their roots will go and the harder it will be to deal with when their behaviour starts to significantly impact the culture of your organisation. Remember my poor lilies. If I’d dealt with the agapanthus the first time I saw it then it would never have had the opportunity to put down deep roots. Choosing to optimistically hope that the agapanthus would add colour
and interest to my lily pot was not clever.

Having extracted the lily bulbs, I have replanted them. Now comes the long wait to see if my misplaced optimism about the agapanthus has done permanent damage to my lilies. Think carefully if you see an agapanthus in your organisation – do you want to risk long term damage for a short term convenience?

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Carolyn Stuart


Carolyn Stuart is a weaver of futures, who uses a strengths based approach to help people and organisations to unlock an abundant and enjoyable future. Carolyn’s varied career in education has included 13 years as a principal, 5½ years in a senior system-level education role and now as the
founder of Weaving Futures, a company that combines the latest design strategies with sound leadership practices to help people navigate their preferred future.

Carolyn can be contacted at: carolyn.stuart@weavingfutures.nz