Five Leadership Lessons from the Garden

The flowers that are in full bloom are wonderful. The weeds that have taken over one corner are terrible. To get my garden in world class condition and ready for the competitive eye of my neighbor is exactly what every leader must do: seed, feed, and weed.

  1. Consider the “season." In today’s 24-hour global economy, it would appear that there is no season, nothing that distinguishes night from day. Grow, grow. Sell, sell. But the smart leader watches the sky, reads the clouds, and can tell when there are shifts to indicate a new season. Bring products to market at the wrong time or introduce an idea without understanding timing and the “garden” can quickly resemble a piece of scorched earth.
  1. Give credence to the unexpected and control what you can control. The El Niño weather has not only raised havoc with my roses but spawned dangerous storms and opposing droughts throughout the world. Leaders face “El Niños”: market downturns, a coup in Africa, airline strikes, terrorist attacks. You name it. A great leader takes all precautions and then remains flexible and ready for the unexpected. Scenario planning, a strategy first employed by Royal Dutch Shell, brings experts from a wide range of fields together to discuss actions if different scenarios take place. Scenario planning allows you to think out—in advance—various options. In like fashion, my corner of the garage has all the tools, sprays, and plant potions necessary for probable surprises.
  1. Plant seeds and give space to the sowers. A smart leader knows that it is only through dialogue that ideas can sprout and take root. Instead of jealously guarding “my ideas, my client, my territory," a leader with an eye toward growing a “garden” takes no ownership but rather seeks to find which seeds have merit. Like the biblical passage, some seeds will wither on rocks or find little moisture in shallow soil. But others will be carried to places where they flourish. When newcomers bring ideas from other industries and businesses, are they welcomed or are they rooted out because “that’s not how we do things here”?
  1. Feed different plants differently. Not every plant needs the same thing, yet all plants must eat. A “garden-wise” leader understands “nothing is so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals." Just as each voice has its own unique sonogram, each employee, associate, and stakeholder needs a unique blend of “food." For some, the "food" is numbers: “Give me numbers and I thrive.” For many, it’s the opportunity to learn and advance in knowledge. For others, it’s the engaging nature of the work itself that offers fulfillment.
  1. Weeding is backbreaking work. A great leader hates this part of the task. It means fact-finding. Accountability. Time. Not everything that is “green” belongs in my garden. Not every associate belongs with you. In fact, firing customers at times can also be the healthiest long-term fertilizer for a vibrant business.

Leaders must take time to stop and “smell the roses." I can get so overwhelmed with the “work” of my garden that I forget why I planted it. Why have you planted your “garden”?  Are there people who delight in the work of your hands?  When you step back and gaze at your enterprise, are you pleased with what you see?