“to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”

                                                                                                    -Audrey Hepburn

I spent the better part of Saturday working in the yard.  There was a lawn that needed to be mowed and weeds that needed to be pulled.  I found two small trees that did not survive the winter and will need to be replaced.  The deck looked barren, so I took a few photographs, went to a local greenhouse, and with the help of a wonderful gardening specialist found plants that will bring color and life to my summer habitat.  I also noticed the empty pots that last year provided a wonderful harvest of cherry tomatoes.  They too will need to be planted, sooner, rather than later. The final chore of the late afternoon was to scatter wildflower seeds in some open areas near the stream.  It was a productive day.  Now all I need to do is apply my gardening skills and follow-up on my efforts.  I will need to watch the newly seeded areas and assure the weeds are kept at bay, bed some young tomato plants and, and nurture my the new deck plants so that they grow and blossom until the the chill of fall turns their colors to gold.

Jon Brandon, a contributing editor to Inc.com encourages us to take a similar approach as we nurture the leadership skills of those in our organization.  His post, “6 Ways Great Leadership is Exactly Like Gardening” considers the similarities between leadership development and being a master gardener.  Leaders and master gardeners both know that young plants and young talent both have a way of surviving in the wild.  They will root quickly, but the roots and stems are fragile.  You can’t pull the green stem and expect the full plant to follow.  In fact, a sudden pull can destroy it.  A nurturing approach is not “an” option in leadership (or in gardening); it’s the only option.  And similar to gardening, it’s also something you can learn with practice and patience.

Great leaders share a commonality with master gardeners; they both understand the power of nurturing.  They are both really good at:

  • Looking for the Growth – It will happen, especially with the most teachable employees.  It may not be evident at first glance and sometimes, you have to look a little harder.   Master gardeners will tell you that they sometimes need to get down on their hands and knees to see the germination in their garden.  No less is true with young leaders, sometimes it takes that second look to see them taking root, and beginning to blossom.
  • Nurturing in Any Way Possible – New growth in a garden is hard to spot and even harder to nurture.  In gardening, you have to build a fence, add plant food, and cover the seedlings if there is an imminent freeze.   Great leaders do the same; they make their employees feel safe, and create a circle of trust.  They create a safe environment for their employees, nurture their growth, protect them, and give them a place to do their jobs.
  • Planting Seeds – The best leaders know how to plant the germ of an idea.  They’re subtle.  Planting a seed is a way to encourage others to think, to foster ambitious ideas, to encourage creativity.  The alternative to this leadership style is being the one who always has the best idea.  How is that received?   It’s like taking a fully grown tomato plant, digging a hole, and placing it into a garden.  “Hey everyone, look at how amazing I am! I’m the leader!”  Remember, the shade alone from that massive stalk will kill the seeds (and the ideas).  True leaders think about the whole garden.
  • Getting Excited About Progress – Think about how you feel when you see the seedlings taking roots, when plants burst into bloom and exhibit colors you couldn’t imagine, when you first taste the produce you labored to produce or that spectacular moment when the butterflies or hummingbirds pause to feed at your plants.   You want to jump up and down, give high fives and savor the moment.  Well let’s do no less when someone hits a sales target or lands a contract.  Find a way to show encouragement and get excited about progress.  Do jump up and down.  Do give high fives.  Do tell someone you are proud to be working with them.  Do celebrate!  This is the harvest created through nurturing that fosters conditions in which people learn, grow, and blossom.
  • Removing Impediments – Maybe the primary act of all great leaders is to remove impediments.  In a garden, weeds will always inhibit growth, therefore they need to be pulled.   You must address the weeds or they will overrun and kill your garden. What are the weeds in your workplace?  Do you resolve conflict, pay people what they are worth, remove distractions and confront problems?   Like the master gardener, you are the primary weed control expert charged with encouraging growth. If you don’t address the weeds, don’t expect growth.
  • Praising Consistently – Master gardeners have a water supply available at a moment’s notice.  They also use differing approaches to watering the plants.  Some plants like a deluge, while other may prefer a mist or gentle shower.   No less is true for praise, reinforcement, and recognition.  Great leaders carry a watering can at all times.  Effective leadership is highly dependent on your ability to nurture.   People have enough negative markers in their life for what they are doing wrong.  Be the person who tells them what they are doing right and maybe, just maybe, they will grow into something amazing.  

In the 1950’s, Pete Seeger wrote a tune that was popularized by the British group, The Byrds.  It was entitled, Turn, Turn, Turn. It begins, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.  The season has arrived and our seeds are planted.   Now, as the young plants emerge and reach for the sun, it is imperative that we use our gardening skills to nurture them and create an environment in which they can thrive.   Here’s hoping for a bumper crop!

Embrace the Challenge!