ASAE Annual Meeting

Water the Bamboo

By Association Adviser staff • August 17, 2021

If you planted a seed, how would you ensure it’s growing? You’d likely water it often, make sure nothing or no one disturbs the soil, and hope for no extreme temperatures (or move your potted seed inside a climate-controlled building). But you wouldn’t dig it up to check on it—that would ruin the seed’s growth!

Growing plants takes patience and persistence. So does personal and professional growth, says Greg Bell. Greg, an author, thought leader and motivational speaker, delivered an inspirational Game Changer session during ASAE’s 2021 Annual Meeting about nurturing your personal growth and the growth of your organization. He opened by asking everyone a simple question:

What’s going well?

What’s going well in your life? In your career? In your community? If you’re not already of a growth mindset, ease into one by asking yourself this question every day. Even in the worst of times, we can all find something going well, even if it’s just, “I woke up today.” 

Next, ask yourself, Who is that connected to? Who is helping you work toward your goals? How does it make you feel? 

Ask questions that encourage you to think positively. If you ask yourself lousy questions, you’ll only get lousy answers in return. The language we use, with others but especially with ourselves, determines how we think. How we think determines what we believe. Our beliefs determine our actions. And our actions determine our reality, and what we think is true. 

Greg Bell on the left with language graphic on the right
The language we use with ourselves and others creates a self-replicating path of beliefs, actions, and reality. What are you telling yourself about your ability to create growth?

Usually it’s not enough to just speak our goals into fruition, however. We must nurture them. This is where Bell reminded us that some plants, like giant timber bamboo, can take four years or more to sprout. Once they sprout, they can grow 90 feet in 60 days! But it takes plenty of nurturing to get to that point: lots of water, sun, and rich, undisturbed soil. 

Similarly, the seeds of your growth take lots of nurturing as well:

  1. Patience: Growth takes time.
  2. Persistence: You must constantly tend your work to see success.
  3. Courage: There will be unknown or unanticipated factors that crop up.
  4. Self-discipline: You can’t lead others if you’re not disciplined yourself.
  5. Strong beliefs: To overcome doubters, internal or external.

There’s no such thing as an overnight success. There’s always a lot of invisible work that goes on in the background before success happens. The constant nurturing of new habits and new goals takes time! Farmers don’t dig up their crops to see if they’re growing. They patiently wait, and they nurture in the meantime.

Bell cautioned against the “pandas” that will amble into your path as you work toward growth. Pandas eat 40-50 pounds of bamboo per day. They can destroy a bamboo patch the same way fear, uncertainty and doubt can destroy your plans. You must summon up the courage to face fears and uncertainty. But it takes practice and positivity to overcome doubtful voices—yours or others’. Doubt insidiously infiltrates our plans and derails us from achieving our goals. This is why it’s important to think about what’s going well! Roger Bannister was told he would not break the 4-minute mark for running a mile because of his unusual training regimen. But he did it anyway, practicing on his lunch breaks from medical school. 

There are other “pandas” to watch out for: procrastination, disorganization, lack of self-care. Bell reminded the audience that we cannot achieve more if we limit ourselves physically by not getting enough sleep, not eating healthy or not being physically active. He also reminded the audience to let go of unrealistic expectations. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. Just when you think you’ve caught up, they’ll refinance and level up again!

In closing, Bell offered a study of the word “momentum.” The word begins with “moments.” Our lives are made up of moments. Be present and focus on moments, one after the next. But “momentum” ends with the word “um”—a pause. Remember to pause every now and then. Pause when you’ve achieved a goal or when you’ve experienced a setback. Reflect on what’s going well. Think about where you want to go next, then keep going. Keep nurturing yourself and your goals. Keep watering that bamboo. 


More than just a motivational speaker, Greg Bell is a Portland, Oregon based thought leader, business consultant, and leadership coach. His popular books, What’s Going Well? and Water The Bamboo: Unleashing The Potential Of Teams And Individuals, have inspired an array of organizations including Fortune 500 companies like Nike, Disney, and Comcast. Watering your goal—or bamboo—with focused attention can lead to astonishing results. As an innovator and keen observer of highly successful leaders and teams, Greg has learned that the key to success is having the courage to use the skills you already have to achieve a result greater than you previously imagined. Learn more about Greg at or on Twitter @gregbellspeaks.