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Manage Your Business Like China’s Ancient Gardener King

Thousands of years ago, the Chinese developed a style of management that survives to this day, and is helping China become a global power during a time of economic crisis.

So just what is the Chinese management style? And how does ancient Chinese philosophy and wisdom influence modern management?

Around 1050 BC, King Wen and his adviser Jiang Ziya wrote The Book of Changes, a text that talks about the culture and history behind Chinese civilization and provides specific insights into how to be a successful leader.

Of the lessons inside, one of Jiang Ziya’s key insights helped the King to develop his country into a prosperous nation – using a tree as a metaphor we can better understand the basics of this teaching.

Only the gardener understands the secrets of a tree. The gardener knows what nutrients the tree requires to survive and grow, and which branches need to be clipped in order to make the entire tree flourish.

Ziya understood that each individual bud needs attention in order for the tree to grow, and he taught King Wen to love and care for his people – to manage them like the gardener manages the tree. During his reign from 1099-1050 BC, King Wen took his people from a post-war culture of depression and food shortages to one that was happy, cooperative and prosperous.

Nearly 3000 years later, many Chinese managers still apply this ancient wisdom to the management of their companies.

1. Cultivate Your Team’s Spirit

When someone enjoys their life, their creativity, motivation and productivity are all boosted. This same principle applies to the business world – when every member of a company enjoys their life and loves their work, they perform at their best.

To manage like a gardener you must see the potential of each team member, just as a gardener anticipates the blooming of a flower bud.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”– Confucius

Through good management techniques, you should invest, help, support, coach, train, care and love your staff. Your staff will grow happily like the buds on a tree and feel grateful for the opportunity to dedicate the fruits of their labour to your garden.

2. Becoming An Excellent Leader Means Becoming A Good Manager

Successful leaders do not rule with fear, but rather create a happy working environment. Gardens don’t grow because you threaten to take away their water and nutrients, but through nurturing and patience.

3. To Grow Your Business You Need The Loyalty And Dedication Of Your Staff

Loyalty does not only mean that staff do not leave the company, but also that they put their all into their work. You will achieve better results when your team genuinely wants to be at work.

You must nurture your staff the way a gardener nurtures his flowers:

  • Help every staff member to choose the work they like
  • Prepare the necessary working materials
  • Set clear targets
  • Praise and encourage staff when they do a good job
  • Care about your staff members’ personal life, not only work
  • Create a company culture based around delivering high quality work
  • Respect every individual
  • Have a team mission statement
  • Encourage people to help each other
  • Discuss everyone’s career development plan
  • Care about progress

4. Think About The Long Term

When we look at our tree five or ten years down the road, it will have grown stronger and taller if the soil surrounding it is rich with nutrients. Similarly, your staff will develop and grow if their working environment, like the soil around the tree, is supportive, and full of the resources they need to grow.

Like the trees in a Chinese garden, as your staff members grow, they’ll become stronger, therefore producing better results for your company. When your company becomes a beautiful garden, you’ll reap the benefits at harvest.

5. Managing Like A Gardener Is Everyone’s Responsibility

By managing your own life and improving yourself you will bring bigger and better results to your team, company and country.

Remember that as a business leader, the more senior the position you hold, the more of an impact you will make on the company culture as well as the satisfaction of those you lead. Manage like a gardener in all aspects of your life, not just your career.

“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment.”– Lao Tzu

By developing your personal and family life, you will create a positive cycle of management and enjoy fruitful results in your business.

6. Love Is The Key To Successful Management

  • Care about the process, not just the end result – Encourage those you lead to help and guide each other, fostering good working relationships.
  • Praise and encourage staff members when they do a good job – Set up clear and achievable targets so your team knows exactly what is expected of them.
  • Help every staff member enjoy the work they do – Create career development plans so your staff know that you are committed to their individual growth.
  • Respect every individual – Care about your team’s personal lives, not just the work they put out – this is the essence of the Chinese management style.
“Without respect, what distinguishes men from beasts?”– Confucius

This was a guest post by:

Hongbing Iris Cai is the Founder and Director of Positive Speaking, a strategic consultant and an international speaker. Her consultancy specialises in supporting companies to have effective communication with Chinese people and business. She helps SMEs to export to China.

Before moving to London, Iris was a Finance Manager at WPP Group China and at Saatchi & Saatchi China.

The course she designed, ‘Business in Chinese: Chinese Language and Culture Study for Beginners’ has been taught at the China Club of London Business School and to a number of blue chip companies since 2009.

Iris is also a prolific writer and is published regularly in the UK-Chinese Times. She has also participated on the weekly programme, On the Money, on BBC 5 since February 2011.


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