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Gardening Is The Best Metaphor For Leadership


© Susan Shapiro

© Susan Shapiro


It seems that I am having the same conversation over and over again with executives I coach. They wonder, how can I empower my team of managers? How can I get them to have a sense of urgency and ownership? Am I the only one who cares so much? How do I go about growing my people? How do I steer the ship with just the right amount of control, and get the results we must deliver to the organization?

The illusion of control

Gardening may be the best metaphor for your organization. Gardeners have no illusion of control. We create the right growing conditions, nurture healthy soil, plant a diverse variety of sturdy, healthy plants that co-exist, and watch them grow. We adjust as we go along, removing excess weeds, mulching, preventing insects, watering and fertilizing. The end result usually includes some failures, and some surprising successes, but we don’t have control.

It seems to me that we need to adopt a similar approach to leadership. The leader may feel she serves her organization versus mastering it, just as the gardener realizes she cannot control the weather and unforeseen challenges.

We must we give up the idea that we can control our people. Instead, we need to identify how to create the right growing conditions for healthy and productive relationships, work and collaboration. We must innovate and reward the good and disincentivize the bad. And we need to allow a diverse range of people, perspectives and strategies to co-exist.

That’s not to say we can’t dig up a few things and replant them here and there. Good businesses are always tweaking and improving after they set down their course.

Systemic solutions

Waging war on pests and weeds is usually the last resort in sustainable gardening – and it is really just damage control. The gardener knows if they develop good soil, plant things in the right place at the right time, provide the right amount of water, then the weeding and pest control will be minimal.

Gardens need constant tending

When I hear managers describe conversations they’ve had with employees about performance, it is often clear that these talks should have happened months ago. A weed had taken over. Results will never be as good when you wait too long to correct an issue.

Are you putting in the ongoing work of tending to your team? Do you discuss your expectations and objectives, provide proper training, set people up for success, pave the way and empower them for success? Or are you expecting prize winning tomatoes to appear magically out of a packet of seeds?

Are you a gardener? What correlations do you see between your gardening and your leadership at work? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.

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