12 November 2020

If you’re green you grow, if you’re ripe you rot!

“When you are green, you grow. When you are ripe, you rot!”

I’ve been thinking about this quote after a recent discussion with a mentor and former CEO of mine who referred to this concept almost every week in my time working with her. These words had a strong impact on me as a young professional and I find myself regularly referring to them when I’m looking for comfort in tough situations. They sprung to mind recently during an especially challenging period of organisational change and growth at work.

I wrote recently about the comfort zone, and the need to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to get better, to learn and grow – read the blog post here – what I didn’t think about when I wrote it is that sometimes you get thrown into an uncomfortable situation without asking for it. It may not have been your choice, however you can control how you handle the situation.

At a breakfast event this week I heard from Richard Goyder AO – the chair of Qantas, the AFL and iconic children’s charity Telethon, among other roles. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across our economy and few have had a hand in dealing with its fallout across as many industries as he has. When the virus hit, flights were grounded and the AFL went on standby before making tough calls to keep playing under a hub scheme.

As chair of Telethon, Richard also had the crucial task of helping to ensure the fundraising event could still go ahead and provide much-needed support to families and communities. What I learned from his speech was how much leadership matters! That the best leaders are good at controlling what they can control, acknowledge when there are frustrating situations, that they are human beings and have moments of feeling disappointed. However, that they focus on supporting their people even better when times are tough and focus on solutions not just the problems. That most effective leaders, like Richard, in some ways seem to thrive on the added responsibility, remain calm and realise that they’re learning a hell of a lot which will be good in the long run.

Physical discomfort also requires a mental toughness. I recall a time when I was a teenager, in a junior Aussie rules footy squad where we were completing these hill sprints, hill sprint after hill sprint and my body was almost shutting down due to exhaustion, several teammates were vomiting from exertion and it felt never ending. It is more than 20 years ago now, yet I can still recall the pain and discomfort I experienced, yet afterwards it was a rewarding feeling to know that I didn’t give up and my mind could get through it.

And when the GFC hit Australia in 2007-2008, I also went through many uncomfortable moments as a manager, moments that always seemed like a lose/lose situation, but I got through the pain and anguish and came out the other side stronger for the experience. I recall referring to the GFC at that time as my MBA!  

Like those hill sprints and during my career in the GFC, there have been other times where I would briefly contemplate throwing in the towel, but my mind is now trained to never wander off into that zone for more than a few moments. After recovering from each tough moment that I have been through, the impact seems to be that my confidence levels rise.

When I spoke to my former CEO recently, she reminded me that adversity brings opportunity – to set short term goals, keep one eye on the longer-term goals and push through. She reiterated that adversity provides an opportunity for both personal and organisational growth and for the individuals who remain composed and focused under pressure, the rewards can be huge.

For a long time I’ve had some big and clear goals in terms of where I would like my career to get to, and what I have realised is that clarity with your goals does great things for holding yourself accountable and maintaining resilience.

“When you are green, you grow. When you are ripe, you rot!” – Unlike aging which is degeneration, the body, in particular your health, spirit, and mind, have to adapt in order to grow – if you’re not learning something new, you might ripen and rot before your time!

I see it with people around me from time to time, those who resist change – you know the type, you’re probably sitting in an office with a couple of them now – those who have a “know-it-all” attitude. Recruitment Industry expert Greg Savage hit the nail on the head in one in particular post where he writes about “Dinosaurs, who are always looking backwards, scoff at training sessions…Intransigent fossils, who dismiss success by new-comers with fresh ideas, as ‘luck’, and complain that new technology, designed to help them become more efficient, merely ‘gives them more admin to do’. And slowly these people start to fail.”

When you look at it, when the challenges have stopped is the time when people age or ‘rot’ more rapidly.

I often pay it forward and share stories with my own team members in management roles about what I see in top performers in the business world;

  • That to improve as a leader they simply must continually push the envelope on their leadership skills.
  • That, similar to one of Jim Collins’ messages in his book Good to Great where he points out that good is the enemy of great, I believe comfort is the enemy of improvement.
  • The moment they become fully satisfied with their skills will be the moment they are in the danger zone of rotting!

The last thing which hit home when my old boss gave me some advice was her focus on me looking after me. She basically demanded that I had to focus on good balance with my family despite any type of challenging period and additional pressure, ensure I sleep well, get regular exercise, go easy on the alcohol or partying (‘don’t booze it up too much’ were her words!) to be able to manage my mind to remain fresh and that I cannot do it all despite the mind potentially wanting to take it all on.

So, my question to you in your career as it stands today – are you GREEN because you are choosing to be in the process of learning, growing, developing, and becoming all that you can be your role? Or are you RIPE because you are feeling that you have ‘arrived’ and do not need to learn too much else to maintain your current position.

Stay in the ongoing ripening process because remember what happens if you are already ripe – you might start to rot!

Written by Kurt Gillam

Kurt is the Executive General Manager at PERSOLKELLY Australia and an Executive Leadership Team Member at Programmed. Working for the largest recruitment brand in APAC and one of the largest employers in Australia, with a strong depth and breadth of experience, Kurt is focused on building outstanding people, strong customers and great communities.


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