Leadership lessons from office plants…

One of my strategies for getting through lockdown/pandemic burnout is to have a lot of green in my workspace. I can see at least six plants from where I sit each day.

Some of them are good at cleaning the air, some grow in intricate pattern and some grow in interesting shapes. Having discovered that I love succulents, I went about finding a local supplier and thanks to the wonderful Blasus Succulent Emporium, which is situated in a small independent shop collective here in Cardiff, I am now fully stocked 🙂

(Blasus is the Welsh word for something scrumptious, delicious or… succulent)

Crassula Estagnol

I know very little about plants and have killed many in my time, so in order to succeed with my new office buddies, I looked up specific care instructions and I try my best to follow them.


As a result, things are flourishing! That said, not every plant is doing so great, regardless of how carefully I try to look after them. Some are in shock due to the change in environment from a cool shipping container with freezing temperatures outside whilst others are struggling to find the right spot which has the appropriate amount of light, shade, warmth and cool.

What looks like dying chives is actually a rather special Albuca Spiralis, a plant that is meant to grow in spirals… it’s now in it’s fourth spot to try and find a sunny enough home in these dark days.

Similarly, my first and most stripy plant companion is struggling to grow happily. She is doing better now, in a bigger pot, but still not altogether in a happy place.

Transitions are tough. When things change, we react in different ways and the start of this year has brought with it a fair share of transitions and uncertainty. Unlike my office plants, the elements of my working life don’t come with such clear care instructions or indeed any labels that tell me what conditions they would flourish in. It’s a mixture of experience, trial and error… and hoping for the best.

Like with caring for plants, care and patience is much needed, and in these bleak times it can be hard to remember that. Somehow caring for the plants in my work space reminds me of that and I find new joy and inspiration in their efforts to grow – which translates into my working life.

In a meeting with other UK-based CEOs this week, someone said that there is just such uncertainty, that it makes no sense to base decisions about the future on our experiences of the past 10 months. We all agreed that the uncertainty was extremely tiring and that not knowing in itself was the worst aspect of being a leader in these uncertain times… cue pandemic burnout (which, to me at least, feels like a relatively fortunate type of burnout to suffer from in comparison with what others have to suffer). Yet, in my context, it still presents real and difficult challenges. Challenges that my green office buddies help me overcome.

Tomorrow is Friday, and it’s become a routine for me to start each Friday by looking after all the plants. I go round with an old deep plate and start a watering routine, giving everyone a drink. Sometimes one gets a new, bigger, pot. Some weeks there are dead leaves to remove or feed is needed.

Care. Time. Patience. Consistency. And with time, most will flourish. Definitely not a new insight, but it feels worthwhile to remind myself when sitting in the nth meeting of the day, answering endless emails and trying to balance all the different demands that leading an organisation through these times places upon me. Having plants for company somehow makes it all better, a little easier, a bit more… fun 🙂