Want to Unleash Peak Performance? Water The Bamboo

Committing to the Water The Bamboo philosophy begins determining: What are your values, vision, and goals, and what relationships do you need to help you attain them?

By Greg Bell, Founder, Water The Bamboo Center For Leadership

Have you watered your bamboo today?

When I ask that question, I often get some rather puzzled looks. What does cultivating a crop of giant timber bamboo have to do with training, human resources, or even leadership for that matter?

“Water the bamboo” is a metaphor for team and individual success. It’s a concept based on the type of bamboo that grows like no other plant in the world: If you water giant timber bamboo in the first year, nothing happens. If you water the second year, nothing happens. If you water the third year, nothing happens. But when you water the bamboo the fourth year, it will rocket up an astonishing 90 feet in only 60 days.

Timber bamboo farmers water the seed and tend to it faithfully, diligently, and patiently even though there’s no visible evidence of growth for years. After more than a decade of working with and studying successful people, teams, and organizations, I realized how much we can benefit from understanding the principles giant bamboo timber—and the bamboo farmers—teaches us about amazing growth and success. We undoubtedly have evolved into a culture that worships immediate gratification and the cliché of overnight success, ignoring the fact that “overnight successes” usually come only after years of hard work. Timber bamboo farmers realize it takes many nights to be an overnight success.

Achieving the real and sustainable growth that’s derived from committing to the Water The Bamboo philosophy begins with what I call plan your crop: What are your values, vision, and goals, and what relationships do you need to help you attain them?

Dig DeeperUnearth Your Values

Dissatisfaction, frustration, and stress often are caused by people and teams engaging in behavior and activities that are misaligned with their deeply held values. Employees and organizations often get pulled in many directions, struggling to keep up with the pace of life, competitors, and the constant flow of activities and information that must be processed daily. Too many people spend too little time on the things that are truly important.

Success, after all, isn’t derived from simply engaging in activity; success is about engaging in activity that matters most to you and your organization. This is why the road to success starts with unearthing and bringing clarity to your values—both your personal values and those of your organization. Having this clarity enables you to:

  • Crystallize what’s important so you schedule time around those things.
  • Avoid the distractions, flirts, and external demands of life so you can reserve your precious resources for highest priorities.
  • Make better decisions because you’ve run those decisions through your “values filter” to act with clarity and integrity.
  • “Walk your talk” so you are living authentically.

The teams I work with that spend time developing their values and working in alignment with them are more focused, energized, and happier because they are clear about what’s important. They often report dramatic increases in team performance and an improved work environment.

BAMBOO RULE: Avoid the temptation to make choices for expediency that are not guided by values

Create a Vivid Vision

Bamboo farmers don’t start in haste; they plan before they plant. So should you. After all, if you don’t know what you’re working toward, how will you know if you’re making progress? Success requires having a compelling vision of what you want.

I’ve found that in many organizations and teams, vision is either missing or hazy. Often, teams focus on implementing ideas or taking action before they have dedicated the time to establish a vision and communicate that vision to all team members. People do it, too. How often have you found yourself busy beyond belief, but not getting any closer to what you really want? What’s the point of climbing to the top of the ladder of success if you realize, in the end, you’re on the wrong wall?

BAMBOO RULE: Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

No Goals, No Bamboo

With your values and vision articulated, it’s time to shift to the daily activities that will make it all happen: goals. Answering, “How do I get there?” goals are the tactical activities that serve as milestones and help make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

It’s important that your goals are harmonious with your values and vision. For example, if your team’s primary goal is to double sales revenue within the next two years, and your team members need to work 12 hours a day to accomplish that, you could have an issue if one of your top corporate values revolves around work-life balance. To be truly successful, the goals should be prioritized by letting them flow from your values and vision.

BAMBOO RULE: Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off your goal.

Tend Your Relationships

“It’s who you know, not what you know” is more true now than ever. Individuals and teams who understand this mantra will thrive in today’s relationship age (yes… the information age is over; there’s too much of it). By watering and improving your relationships, you will gain valuable resources such as knowledge, energy, work, efficiencies, income, ideas, and increased productivity.

In any group, and in most relationships, people bring different skills, experiences, and perspectives—making the group stronger than if everyone were like-minded and similarly talented. One type of group that is particularly valuable in helping your bamboo reach its maximum height is the Bamboo Circle—individuals who “connect” regularly, who listen and brainstorm solutions and strategies, and who generally support and help each other be accountable. Creating and participating in a Bamboo Circle gives members the opportunity to:

  • Perform at a higher level because like-minded people can help you make better decisions while holding you accountable.
  • Confide in a group of trusted advisors with confidence about challenges or barriers to your vision and goals.
  • Get to know respected colleagues while helping them grow their bamboo.

BAMBOO RULE: The quality of your bamboo will be determined by the quality of your relationships.

Far from a simple feel-good philosophy, Water The Bamboo is core to understanding that the hard work employees are putting in now is for the long term. Perhaps Chip Kelly, head coach of the Oregon Ducks football team, summed it up best in an interview after the team finished the 2009 season and was headed to the Rose Bowl (Kelly’s first year as head coach), “To our players, the analogy of Water The Bamboo is that you have to keep driving, keep playing, and it will pay off in the long run. And that’s what those guys understand.” The Ducks have since been to the BCS National Championship and won the Rose Bowl.

Greg Bell, CSP, is a thought leader, author of “Water the Bamboo: Unleashing the Potential of Individuals and Teams,” and founder of the Water The Bamboo Center For Leadership. As an innovator and observer of successful leaders and teams, he distilled his findings into the WaterThe Bamboo approach to success, which has encouraged and inspired thousands of leaders and teams to identify and water their bamboo to create remarkable results. To learn more, visit http://www.waterthebamboo.comor follow @WatertheBamboo. Bell is also the founder of the just-launched Water the Bamboo University, an interactive library of goal-setting tools and multi-media resources designed to help teams and individuals create a game plan for achieving their goals. The University’s first module, “Grow Your Roots,” is a step-by-step exploration and application of the principles of the bamboo farmer, teaching members how to get clarity around their values and vision, define their goals, and develop relationships to help them see their visions turn into reality. Throughout the 90-day course, members will learn how to create unshakable motivation and persistence, develop laser-like focus to avoid distractions, and apply the secrets of high achievers to create breakthrough results.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders.