Tea Leaves – A Metaphor for Experimental Leadership

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.


Ali Anani
Ali Anani
My name is Ali Anani. I hold a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia (UK, 1972) Since the early nineties I switched my interests to publish posts and presentations and e-books on different social media platforms.

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  1. One of the most damaging attitudes in the business world is the “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome. A lack of openness to new experiments can kill commitment, innovation and creativity. To overcome this problem, innovative organizations constantly strive to challenge the status quo as much as possible. They promote experimentation through a range of ideas and practices.
    Create a safe environment in which people dare to fail. Forget the rules and embrace failure. Realize that the world has become too complex to do all things perfectly. It’s best to learn from your mistakes faster than your competition and improve before they do.
    Adaptability is one of the main strengths of highly innovative organizations. They embrace experimentation in their products and service offerings, but also in their way of working and organizational change efforts. Change becomes an essential part of their daily work, not just a large-scale reorganization to be faced every two / three decades.

    Innovators realize that it is better to experiment and fail than to try to never make mistakes. They constantly strive to reinvent the organization before the world asks them to. Because they understood Charles Darwin very well when he wrote: “it is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change”.

    • “Realize that the world has become too complex to do all things perfectly”- this alone is enough to expand in more than one post Aldo Delli Paoli

      What is a perfect solution in a complex world wherein small actions may change the path and drive us out of it?
      I may add perfection is a remote dream. It is chasing our shadow. What is perfect few minutes ago could be imperfect now.

      We need to seek understanding of the basic facts.
      What is perfect for unknown future? Perfect for how long?
      Thank you for sharing a most interesting comment my friend. I am quoting you in my post for next week