How Does Your Garden Grow?

by  Tara R. Alemany  |  Leadership Development

At this time of year, there are some people who are eagerly planning their gardens, waiting for the last frost to pass so that they can transplant tender seedlings outside, prepare the soil, and start planting in earnest.

I was thinking about this the other day, while eagerly planning my own garden. I had to start first with knowing what kind of crops I wanted to grow. Based on this information, I could determine how much sun and shade the plants required, what the quality of the soil and amount of drainage was that was needed, which plants would boost or deter crop yields, and whether I could start seedlings inside or had to plant them in place.

As all of this was going through my mind, I couldn’t help but notice that the same things apply to leaders.

  • While gardeners must know what crops they want to grow, leaders must have a goal in mind. They have to know their purpose in order to share that with others in their team. Just as a gardener can’t plant corn seeds hoping for tomatoes, leaders can’t bring together a team of business analysts when they need engineers.
  • Once the leader has clearly defined a goal or set or goals, they must be clear about the level of direct involvement that will enable the team to best reach those goals. How much light or shade is needed or, better yet, how much guidance and direction do team members need as opposed to how much freedom they require?
  • At the same time, the leader must balance the environmental factors that will affect their team. How much will team members need to be educated to reach the goal? Is knowledge available via osmosis (on-the-job training) or does it need to be supplemented in other ways?
  • Companion gardeners know that certain plants release nutrients into the soil that other plants require to thrive. For instance, beans release nitrogen into the soil that corn adores, and beans love to climb up the strong and healthy corn stalks that result. By planting the two crops together, both plants yield more produce. Add some squash in the mix as a ground cover to minimize weeds that would otherwise choke out the beans and corn, and you have an ideal growing situation for all three plants. By the same token, leaders must understand the unique needs of their team members, and how best to combine individuals to strengthen those around them.
  • Leaders must also understand the sensitivities of their followers. Some individuals thrive on change and can be moved about frequently. Other people like to grow deep roots, and are happiest when they can stay in one place, doing one thing, for long periods of time. If a leader frequently changes the expectation, location, or direction of individuals who are deep-rooted, the results will be underwhelming.

Forrest Gump once shared that his mama told him “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I think that “Great leaders are like avid gardeners. They know what crops they intend to grow, and plan accordingly.”

Have you taken the time necessary to grow your team properly? Do you know the needs of the individuals in your team? Are you leveraging the strengths of some of your followers to supplement the weaknesses of others? Have you determined how to get the best yield out of the followers you do have? And when your team doesn’t produce the way you expect them to, do you take the time to understand the factors that caused the failure so that you can address the issue next time?

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Deborah Connolly  |  04 May 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, this is a good read!

True leaders can be cultivated as well, and well thought out collaboration with their team members will always increase overall effectiveness and morale.

Deborah Connolly

Tara R. Alemany  |  04 May 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for commenting, Deborah! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

It’s true that leaders can be cultivated as well. I believe that there’s a mentoring component to leadership that raises up the next generation of leaders. Being intentional in our interactions with others increases the bonding that takes place between us, and makes it possible to identify each others’ giftedness. By being aware of those talents, it helps leaders grow up other leaders, as well as helping leaders grow other unique talents as well.

Chery Gegelman  |  04 May 2011  |  Reply

I love the analogy Tara! You paint a very clear vision of success! Thank you for sharing!

Tara Alemany  |  04 May 2011  |  Reply

I’m glad that you enjoyed it, Chery! It was hard to resist the analogy at this time of year. :-)

Susan Mazza  |  05 May 2011  |  Reply

This is a great metaphor for leadership Tara. You have me thinking deeper about the notion of asking yourself what individuals really need from you – do people need light or shade? Light can be encouragement, and it can also be putting someone in the spotlight. Shade can mean keeping competing demands at bay so they can focus on a critical project, or perhaps even protecting them from political fallout. Still thinking…

Tara R. Alemany  |  05 May 2011  |  Reply

Thanks, Susan! I’m glad you enjoyed it. This was a fun post to write. The idea first came to me during the winter months, but it really clung to me and clamored to be written when I started working on my garden this year. I love the concept of intentionality, of being purposeful in life and not just letting life pass you by. The more I thought about it, while getting my garden going, the more correlations I saw between the gardening process and being an intentional leader.

There are those leaders who can get by for some time on charisma alone. But over time, the attraction fades. Leaders who seek to learn and continue to refine the art of leadership, like those of us here in the Lead Change group, leave a lasting legacy, much as a master gardener plans for the future, harvesting and saving heirloom seeds for future plantings, cultivating the best qualities of the plants they grow.

The analogy just keeps going… :-)

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