What aquascaping told me about leadership?

Three weeks ago, I decided to explore the world of aquascaping. I used to have a 20 gallon fish tank with ornamental fresh water fish with fake plants, but a friend told me that aquascaping can be a great hobby. After weeks of searching for my aquascaping supplies, I finally got everything that I need to start. The setup was very challenging and the maintenance takes a lot of work to do – from the frequent water change, to switching the overhead lamps, down to trimming excess leaves. These tasks were done daily and done with care, otherwise, the imbalance would lead to a destruction of your aquatic plants and eventually kill your fish in the future. Over the past few weeks, I learned many leadership lessons through aquascaping. Let me share with you a few of them:

  1. A Clean working environment promotes growth – During the first few days, the driftwood that I added to the tank was leeching tannins. These are chemicals released naturally by drift woods that will usually lead from a slight to dark tea color of your water. Although this is normal and loved by most aquatic plants and fish as it benefits them, it can hinder growth because it will block the amount of light that they need for photosynthesis. So, I had to do a series of 50-60% water change every day. This means I have to take out 60% of water and replace it with the same amount of clean tap water, and this has to be done manually so as not to destroy the plants below the ground. As leaders, we’re expected to ensure that the working environment should be clean – physically and mentally. It means proper conditioning of the working environment by providing your employees with the clean mindset and making sure that their work stations are clean. A clean working environment promotes natural growth and safer working conditions.
  2. Pruning can hurt, but it is necessary – When plants are growing rapidly, they usually produce a few extra leaves that will eventually overcrowd your tank. Because of this scenario, some plants will die and will no longer have the chance to grow again. I’ve learned that trimming down these dead plants are necessary because it will no longer produce the desired results and they are no longer needed. On the other side, if these plants grow rapidly and block other plants, you can prune them and distribute to other fish tanks so they can grow on their own as well. The same concept goes for leadership. Even if it hurts us to let go of unproductive people, it is necessary so we do not drag the others who are growing. We exercise care and compassion, but we need to prune whatever is not fruitful. In the same way, if our employees have already grown big enough to produce new ideas, distribute them to any part of the organization that will help them grow their skills.
  3. Shed some light – photosynthesis is an important process in plant growth and they rely on light. The ideal amount of time to turn on the overhead lamp is 12 hours a day. Take note though, that it’s only light that they need and not the heat, so putting your fish tank under the sun is not really ideal because the heat will kill them. The same goes with leadership – we need to shed some light for them to grow, but we don’t need to micromanage. We can stay on top as a guide and a supplier. Don’t push them too far like you do not know their limits.
  4. Replanting is always an option – When you accidentally pull out a plant from the aqua-soil, they don’t die right away. Most of the time, they have already grown their roots and can be planted back to the soil. In leadership, it means we have to ensure that we are always ready to bring them back to the right foundation when they tend to step out of the process or if they start to show signs of giving up. It is a leader’s job to lend a helping hand.

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These are just four of the basic things I’ve learned over the last four weeks. Today, as I checked my fish tank, the plants are starting to flourish and show signs of progress. The leaves are now slowly recovering, the water quality is improving, and ready to accept a few guppys to start with.

The byproduct of aquascaping is not about your achievement. The byproduct is seeing them grow, be able to see that they are able to have roots on their own, and are fruitful on their own. The ultimate goal of a leader is to produce more leaders. I’m happy to learn a few things in aquascaping. If in aquascaping, we label an aquarist as a person with a “Green Thumb”, in leadership we also has a person who can always raise a “Thumbs up!”


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