Leadership Lessons from the Garden

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One of my great joys in life is gardening.  I anxiously await spring each year and count down the days until I can get outside and play in the dirt!  This past weekend I spent 6 long hours in my yard planting bulbs, annuals, hanging baskets and pots.  It was so much fun and the weather was perfect!  As I spent the entire next day on my couch recovering from all my planting (I am not as young as I used to be!) I started to think about how gardening relates to leadership.  Lessons in leadership are literally all around us.

1. Preparation is key.

This is not my favorite part of gardening but it must be done if you want that beautiful garden.  To prepare my garden for the season, I had to clean out all the leaves, sticks, rocks (I have no idea how so many rocks get into my garden) and all the acorn shells our lovely squirrels harvest, hide and eat all winter long.  I have to weed, turn the soil, lay down some compost and add some new dirt.  All this preparation, I have learned, will pay off in the end.

It reminded me of how leaders must prepare their teams every day.  Successful leaders must remove obstacles that stand in the way of accomplishing the goals and strategies of the organization.  They must make sure staff is prepared with all the tools they need to accomplish those goals.  Leaders must take great care in preparing staff and by doing so, staff will be successful and so will the leader.  How do you prepare your team for success?  What obstacles have you removed?  What obstacles still stand in your way?

2. There’s a lot of trial and error.

We have lived in our current house for almost eight years.  It has taken me about that long to determine what type of plants and flowers will grow best in my garden.  I have some sunny spots and lots of shady spots.  And for some reason these spots tend to shift over the years.  I also learned you have to pay attention to when things will bloom, how far apart they need to be planted, how often they need water, how tall they will grow or even how wide they will grow.  I had to try certain plants and find what worked for my garden.  I discovered just because something worked in someone else’s garden didn’t mean it was going to look the same or work in mine.  I have planted things, torn things out, moved things and separated others.  I invested a lot of money and effort into my garden and I had to accept the fact that some things would work and some things wouldn’t.

Leadership is not a one size fits all approach.  Your managers and your staff require different conditions to enhance, maintain or improve their performance.  What worked with one may not work with another.  A leader will discover what works through her own trial and error process.  Leaders must be open to changing the game plan.  They have to recognize what things need to be torn out, what things need to be moved and what things will work.  Each leader must design her own leadership compass and leadership approach.  Just because it worked for Jack Welch or Vince Lombardi doesn’t mean it will work for you and your conditions.  What is the condition of your team?  How do you approach each staff member?  What have you learned over the years?  What works for you?  What doesn’t work for you?

3. Continued attention and care are critical.

Just because I prepared my garden, learned what works and planted my spring plants, doesn’t mean I can wash my hands and walk away.  I constantly need to monitor my plants and flowers.  I must pay attention to when they need water, when I need to fertilize them and when I need to rotate them.  I have to continually work to get rid of weeds that are trying to choke out my plants and take over.  I have to prune them and remove the dead blooms.  And most of all I have to spray everything so the deer won’t treat my yard like a 24 hour smorgasbord.  Every day I am in my garden doing something.  I learned a long time ago that planting and forgetting won’t turn out prize winning flowers or a garden.

Leaders must also do something everyday to lead their team.  They must interact, teach, mentor, communicate and provide necessary feedback.  This way the weeds (poor performance) won’t take over.  Leaders have to nurture their employees so they can expose their hidden talents.  They have shape their employees performance by providing positive reinforcement and taking advantage of teachable moments.  Just like a gardener, a leaders job is never finished.  What are you doing on a daily basis to lead your team?  How do you ensure your team is growing?  How often do you interact with your team?

I am sure my list, like my garden, is not complete.  What other leadership ideas have you planted?  What have you learned you through trial and error?  We would love to hear your thoughts!

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