This post discusses tea leaves as a metaphor for leadership and management. It calls for the need to adopt experimental leadership and management and the reasoning behind this need.
Have you ever wondered why your same tea may produce tea with different colors, aromas, and quality? Do not worry if you have no answer because I too do not. Tea leaves contain thousands of chemicals that fall into different groups and serve various functions. Tealeaves remind me of companies with thousands of employees and even though they produce the same products, yet they vary in their quality.
Why this variation?
Again, reasons to explain the variety of tea drinks depend on many factors. Most prominent among them are
- Soil quality and its richness in minerals and other nutrients
- Environment too much sunlight may degrade some of the chemicals in tea leaves.
- Neighborhood the plants planted near tea plants compete for sunlight and soil nutrients. The presence of insects affects the chemical composition of the tea plant by promoting it to produce more self-defending chemicals as a way to ward off insects and other animals.
- Processing– this has a major role in affecting tea quality. Tea’s aroma complex consists of hundreds of volatile flavor and aroma compounds that exist in trace amounts. Many of these compounds do not exist in fresh tealeaves; they are instead derived from other substances during processing. Tea leaves contain thousands of chemical compounds. During processing, the chemical compounds are subject to breaking down to react and form new compounds. The shape of tea leaves may change during processing. The more irregular the tea leaves become the more ready they shall release their chemicals upon immersion in water and produce faster dark tea than regular leaves.
- Aging– the more tea leaves remain before cultivation the more their chemical composition shall change due to many factors such as exposure to sunlight.
- Water Quality– the quality and source of water such as water from springs or tap water have also a big role in the final quality of tea that we sip. For example, Temporary hardness refers to the presence of Calcium and Magnesium bicarbonates in the water. When in excess, these minerals dull the color of a tea and promote the creation of tea scum. Tea scum is a nasty-looking iridescent surface film that will cling to the side of your glass as you drink.
Tea leaves as a metaphor for leadership
It is the responsibility of leaders to “immerse” their team members in high-quality water (culture). No matter how good the employee is, immersing her/him in a contaminated culture will produce clinging results and make the organization lose its flavor.
The “processing” of teams is important as it is for tea leaves. “Cutting” employees in irregular shapes will only darken the culture and cause degradation and more uncontrollable behaviors.
Leaders are responsible for the quality selection of their team members. If they want, green tea is different if they want red tea with varying grades. Tealeaves that were cultivated early and not exposed to too much sunlight give green teas so employees are. They may yield what they experienced in their lives.
The chemical diversity and complexity of tea leaves extend to employees and their diversity in how they grew up, the culture and soil they experienced in their lives. Humans’ reactions are unpredictable. Therefore, leaders, as with all complex systems are, should adopt try and error approach. Experimental leadership takes small actions and then probe and sense what happens. No leader can know for sure what will happen as if we do not know exactly what happens to tea leaves when we immerse them in hot water. It is the age of experimental leadership.