Honor Your Survivors

Preface: In the dawning of a brand new year, many of us enjoy looking ahead, and mapping out new projects. I’m feeling some déjà vu here… May I suggest a way we are well advised to slow down?

As those who follow my finds and photos on Ho‘ohana Aloha can attest to, gardening is a hobby of mine. Cicero said, in Letters to His Friends, Vol 2: Books 7-12, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

Well, not quite, but close!

IMG_9539 9 Boxes by Rosa Say

My gardening surprise, has been its management lessons.

Gardening is a very harmonious analogy for much we talk about here in regard to living, working, managing and leading with ALOHA, from foundation — every gardener will tell you, “first, it’s all about the soil” — to PALENA ‘OLE growth [our Key 9] where watchful pruning can get rather ruthless!

I keep lists of monthly gardening chores and yearly planting resolutions, much in the same curation-obsessed way I keep my list of managemeant chores and New Year Engagement Intentions. The Hawaiian tagline I have beneath each list’s header says,

Mai poina! — don’t forget!

Year after year, my first list entry for the month of January is consistently “Honor your survivors.”

Generally speaking, most plants are either annuals or perennials. An annual is a plant that lives out its entire life cycle in one season (a biannual will require 2 years to produce flowers and seeds). A perennial is a plant that lives for multiple seasons, and can endure winter dormancy; it stops growing during cold spells, but it is still alive and well. Hawai‘i has a long growing season, but there will still come a time when it’s best to let an annual go to seed, die gracefully, and return to the soil in compost; you then start a new seedling for a healthier plant.

So, what I mean by, “Honor your survivors” is that I give all my gardening care and attention to my yard’s still-alive perennials as the year begins, before I get tempted to purchase or reseed any annuals come Spring.

I think of my perennials as survivors — they survived the elements, and they also survived me, and my management of their care. I also like thinking of them as my kūpuna, the elders of the garden who continue to thrive, and remind me of certain things just by my looking at them, when, mai poina, I shouldn’t forget something in caring for the overall health of my gardens.

These gardening chore efforts, to honor what I already have growing — pruning, re-composting, getting a pest-repelling companion plant, or repotting and moving something to a better shaded or sunnier spot altogether, will often stretch into February or March for me, but I’ll concentrate on them devotedly, and I’ll no longer rush through them. A few years within this habit have now gone by for me, and I know better. Spring’s annual newness will arrive in my garden, but only when the elders and I are ready to welcome them. And we will. All in good time.

IMG_6891 Sunflower by Rosa Say

How do you honor your survivors?

Once I learned about the differences between annuals, biannuals, perennials and what each one required from me in growing them, I couldn’t help but think about many of my management chores in similar ways. Even temporary neglect has its place in the garden, when I must remind myself to simply leave something alone to fend for itself, and adapt as it grows stronger without any interference from me.

Take delegation: There can be a fine line between co-authorship support, and hovering over someone you delegated something to — we usually call it micromanagement.

So at this time of year, I go with the flow of the garden in my management almanac too.  I give the bulk of my managerial attention to the survivors of my own organization (Say Leadership Coaching) and to my constant partnerships (people who aren’t my employees, but whom we consistently will work with) to assure they are hale and hearty too, and filled with the spirit of ALOHA and energy of KA LĀ HIKI OLA.

My goal is quite simple: I want to be sure I never, ever take them for granted. Mai poina ~ I cannot, and will not forget about all the good they do with me, and for me, and for the work of Managing with Aloha.

IMG_7505 Tomatoes on the sill by Rosa Say

My chore list varies depending on who I am focusing on in particular, and intensity can vary from year to year, for not everyone’s growth spurt is the same; needs are different, just as in the garden. Jobs change, and goals change, and HO‘OHANA will change. People are pretty interesting perennials!

Sometimes it is more about a situation, and what it has caused to happen. We’ve had a few years post-Great Recession where “survivors guilt” has been a pretty commonplace phrase, and many businesses are still in reinvention mode, testing their reshaped business models, and hopefully, attending to their people most of all. Plant, animal, or person, we all need a sense of belonging, and a sunny spot in which to stretch toward the sun and reach for the moon.

My encouragement to you, in writing this post, is to please continue to think about your business model in that same way — as a work in progress to be tested and retested, and as a garden patch of human growth potential, where you constantly honor your survivors, giving them all the care (MĀLAMA) and attention they need from you. Without good health, and without the ALOHA Spirit expressed in kindnesses given to each other, everything else we do in business is moot, and is for naught.

Let’s make this analogy personal for you.

Here’s another journaling exercise just for fun ~ who knows where it might take you?

“The garden offers a new kind of thinking — a necessary schooling in emotional generosity.”
~ Damon Young, The Wisdom of Gardens

In her 2009 book, Garden Anywhere, Alys Fowler writes, “Gardening is something you do, not something you buy.”

Once I got a bit more serious (i.e. intentional) about gardening, mixing my own soil, graduating from container gardening to raised beds, actually eating what I grew, doing my own composting etc., I set a goal to release my landscaping service and tackle our yard care myself, enlisting the rest of the family to help me. It became a longer-term goal than I had originally anticipated, because there was a lot to learn (and a lot of trials with that family enlistment project!)

I started tracking my lessons-learned as a recap to my monthly chore lists – I began curating. At the end of the year I would compile all 12 of those monthly recaps into an annual log. At first I was photo-journaling, and simply trying to build better gardening habits, amazed at the mistakes I would repeat unless I gave more attention to what I was doing, and to what different plants required. Like people, plants come in all shapes and sizes, and are riddled with variation, though supposedly in the same species.

IMG_8038 Starters by Rosa Say

Here is what I wrote after my first ‘serious year’ learning to be a decent gardener — for the record, I don’t have a green thumb, and gardening is a hobby I really have to work at, though come to think of it, that serious effort is likely a big part of the attraction for me.

Lesson 1: Gardening success is all about the soil, preparing a nutrient-rich mix that will drain and re-wet well. Composting is a HUGE part of the mix; there are no chemical fertilizers in the rainforest.

Lesson 2: After the soil, it’s all about climate – which includes water, wind resistance, and keeping pests at bay.

Lesson 3: After soil and climate, you boost your success w/companion planting and diversity – Just 1 plant per variety can produce more than enough for our small family. So take time to plan well, and give plants enough room of their own to stretch in, while remembering how important their companions are.

Lesson 4: No sense wasting time and energy (water/soil expense etc.) on a plant you aren’t going to eat, or don’t really care about, just to see if you can grow it – make a different choice.

Lesson 5: Composting is extremely satisfying in terms of the circle of life: Nothing goes to waste. Even with 2 tumblers and small-chop rushing, I can’t produce it fast enough for all the places I’d like to use it.

Here’s the journaling exercise, as self-coaching for Alaka‘i Managers:
Rewrite these five lessons into manageMEANT lessons. What can these very foundational lessons in a garden, teach us about culture-building with the human beings we are raising, and growing? Concentrate on MĀLAMA as your value-driver:


To Mālama is to take care of, to serve and to honor, to protect and watch over. Thus Mālama is thought of as the benevolent value of stewardship with compassion. In business it refers to the utmost care of all business assets, with particular caring for the most important ones, our human assets. Think about it: Human energy creates all our other resources, physical, financial and otherwise. Acts of caring drive us to high performance levels in our work with others: In giving we become unselfish. We forge stronger partnerships because we elevate others.

Read more here.

Archive Aloha: The feeling of déjà vu I mentioned ~ This January, Slow Down.

IMG_9430 Aeonium by Rosa Say

About Rosa Say

Rosa is the author of Managing with Aloha. She’s a writer and photo-taker, a workplace culture coach, and a zealous advocate of managers everywhere. She’s a wife and mom, sister and daughter, manager, leader and worker bee, living the best life she can, just like you. Learn more about Rosa at www.RosaSay.com


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