Why Leaves Commit Suicide When They Turn Yellow

Autumn is here, and with it comes a certain nostalgia as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Salvador Allende’s life being dramatically cut short in the Palacio de La Moneda. I am reminded at this time of a beautiful poem by Pablo Neruda which describes marvellously the tragic end of tree leaves when they lose all meaning.

I hope that the great Chilean bard will forgive me, and the audacity of bad writers (such as myself), for attempting to turn his poetry into teachings for the business world. But the fact is that when I look around, it becomes increasingly difficult to find business projects with a unique identity, while remaining true to its history, reality and future outlook.

Many companies today are immersed in a general trend towards uniformity, with standardised behaviour patterns, and lacking in any identity or differentiation. Indeed, many of these companies are likened to leaves on a tree, which were at one time a lush green, but are now merely waiting for the inexorable passing of time to end their existence.

Those of us who are business executives must rebel against this downhill slide towards lethargy and the deterioration of the organisations in which we work. Rather than being doomed to going the way of Neruda’s proverbial “suicide of the leaves”, turning yellow and becoming devoid of meaning, I believe that we, and we alone, must take charge of our own destiny.

In my opinion, one of the fundamental tasks of business management is to tirelessly reaffirm the organisation’s identity. We must remain consistent with both the main elements of our organisation’s history, which are unique and non-transferrable to other organisations, and with our present reality, which shapes the foundations for own development. Above all, however, we urgently need to foster and nourish healthy ambition in our organisations whilst motivating our people with a shared goal for the future.

Strengthening the pillars of the organisation’s identity paves the way to consolidating the business project. It also generates a greater level of coherence in the decision-making process, as well as in the performance of all of those in the company. Furthermore, a strong identity structures the company image, making it easily recognisable by all relevant players. As a result, people are provided with a framework which encourages commitment and a greater sense of community, leading to the implementation of long-term strategies and enriched dialogue with others.

In order to prevent the leaves from turning yellow, and plunging towards suicide, we must inject more life-giving “sap” and nutrients into the core of our organisations. To achieve that, we must not err by viewing the organisation’s identity as a static concept, but rather, on the contrary, as an organic identity. As such, it is enhanced and enriched as the organisation progresses and grows, taking on positive traits from the organisations and individuals with whom it has dealings.

This process of redesigning and reinforcing the organisation’s identity is especially relevant at this time of growing internationalisation. With its resultant cross-over between cultures, attitudes, techniques and values, new vectors of thought are introduced, thereby spawning more lively business projects, and yet, simultaneously more complex to manage.

May we steer our organisations towards creating that shared project, so vital to our future, while focusing at all times on the will of the people within the organisation. To that end, we need to come up with unique and recognisable business projects which support development in our organisations. As Neruda said: “Someday, somewhere – anywhere, unfailingly, you’ll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life”. May we strive so that it finds us in a state of bliss.

* Originally published in El Economista. 07/10/2013

Sabin Azua

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