There is an email that goes around roughly once a month about a CEO who decides it is time to pick a successor. Â He calls together all his top talent and gives them each a seed. He says, “I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. Â I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.” So the executives take home the seed and one guy can’t make it grow. He keeps doing the same thing and gets no result. He goes to the meeting at the end of one year, everyone else has a beautiful plant and he explains he couldn’t grow anything. The CEO picks him to be his successor because he’s the only one with honesty and integrity.
This story bugs me every time I receive it and I get it A LOT. Â Honesty and integrity are truly wonderful and important and if there was more of it in the world we would all be happier. Â But in this particular tale, I see all kinds of problems. Â For instance, why didn’t the guy just go to the CEO and discuss the situation? Why would you spend an entire year working on a project, doing the same things day after day (because it says right in it that he watered and fed his seed, etc.) and NEVER ask a question or discuss the project with his boss. To me, while at the end he did the right thing, throughout the project he demonstrated a determined lack of communication and analyzing the situation! Â In real life, do you really want a CEO who follows the same path, regardless of results?
And what about those evil lying wretches who swapped their seeds for living ones? Â So here are a group of people who got a project and never considered collaboration. Â Great CEOs, right? Â Rather than go to their potential management team, since in theory they wouldn’t fire everyone who “failed”, and discuss what could be done, or – WAIT – OMG – create something even better by figuring out what their plants were and growing them in a way they created a higher yield as a TEAM thereby figuring out that all the seeds were dead, they kept their project to themselves, hiding the results until the end. Â What a fabulous culture this place has!
So as far as I’m concerned, this is NOT a good story about business. This is a story about old business models that have proven to lack even the slightest creativity. I would never work in this place! Â I would much rather see a story about one person tweeted about his project, his followers let him know his results were because his seed was dead, he took that to the CEO and explained that while the project as given was designed to fail, he felt there were ways to introduce new resources that would produce better results, teamed up with his colleagues and they grew enough food to stock the local food bank for several months. Â He became the CEO because he displayed honesty and integrity, but also out-of-the-box thinking, good use of resources, and built a team. At the end of the story EVERYONE wanted him to be CEO having seen what he could accomplish and the company went on to flourish, much like the garden in the story.
What about you – what’s your take? Â Here’s the full text of the story:
A successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. Â Instead of choosing one of his Directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young executives in his company together. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you. “The young executives were Shocked, but the boss continued. “I am going to give each one of you a SEED today – one very special SEED. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you.
I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one Â I choose will be the next CEO.”
One man, named Jim, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed. Everyday, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Â Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. Â By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure. Six months went by — still nothing in Jim’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn’t say anything to his colleagues, however, he just kept watering and fertilizing the soil – He so wanted the seed to grow.
A year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for inspection. Â Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be honest about what happened. Jim felt sick to his stomach, it was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right. He took his empty pot to the board room. When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful — in all shapes and sizes.. Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed, a few felt sorry for him!
When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives. Â Jim just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,” said the CEO. “Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!”
All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the Financial Director to bring him to the front. Jim was terrified. He thought, “The CEO knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me fired!”
When Jim got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed – Jim told him the story.
The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, “Behold your next Chief Executive Officer!
His name is Jim!” Jim couldn’t believe it.. Jim couldn’t even grow his seed.
“How could he be the new CEO?” the others said.
Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead – it was not possible for them to grow.
All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive Officer!”