Leadership Lessons Learned from the Garden

Working with your hands in the dirt teaches you a thing or two about work and life, too. Each garden, new or old, big or small, green or red, shade or sun, has its own ecosystem. A true gardener learns her place within this ecosystem. She is an observer in the magical world of Mother Nature.

Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned in the garden that relate to the workplace.

Build it and they will come – From your first turn of the soil, you learn that everything you do has an impact. Your effort is rewarded with blossoms or vegetables or beautiful foliage. The same is true with your work environment, no mater your position within it.

  • Lay a good foundation and feed it often – Just as the soil is the foundation of a good garden, the environment and space set the tone for your workplace. You have to work at keeping balance in both the garden and the office.
  • Selection is key – Finding out which plants do well together is a big part of gardening and selecting people to work together toward common goals and objectives is a crucial part of an organizations success.
  • Routine maintenance – Learning to follow the cycle of the seasons and when to weed and when to feed, when to plant and when to cut, and when to pull the entire plant out of the ground altogether. The same is true for employees. Great leaders follow the performance cycle and work with each employee as an individual.

Expect the unexpected – I have come upon a box turtle hunkered down under a log. I’ve spotted a yellow gladiolus blooming in my garden, even though I never planted a gladiolus.

  • Keep your eyes open –Be on the lookout for signs. Critters including bugs, raccoons, mice, and even birds all have an affect on your plants. The same is true for employees. Many things affect them and as a leader, you should remain observant rather than ignoring the signs of discontent or poor performance.
  • Wear protection – because bad things happen to good gardeners. We wear gloves, eye protection, and we put on bug spray. Leaders should protect themselves from the unexpected by keeping up with trends in your business, networking with colleagues, and continuously improving your department’s output.

Humility is Inevitable – You can’t control Mother Nature. Storms, rodents, draught — there are so many things that can happen in any given season. When you find yourself running out of the house in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm with fierce 45 mph. winds to protect your newly planted vegetables, that’s when you learn to manage the things you cannot control. Being able to thrive in a work environment where there is constant change requires a bit of humility, as well.

  • Look at the big picture – Understand your place in the ecosystem. Learn everything you can about your department, your organization, and its marketplace.
  • It’s not personal – The raccoons are not really out to get me. Even though they have invaded my kitchen, I must remember they are just looking for food. When your company changes something that you feel is not in your personal best interest, remember that you are not the only employee in the company.

Hang in long enough and good things will happen – The longer you garden, the more lessons you learn; the more lessons you learn, the less mistakes you make; the fewer bad experiences you have, the more you garden. So goes the ways of work. Now that I have been in the workforce for over twenty-five years, I find I have more resilience and make more of an impact on the organizations I work with. Here’s one idea to help capitalize on your experience:

  • Keep a Journal – For years, I’ve kept a garden journal where I write down the milestones for each season. I’ve logged the visiting birds each season and today the number of variety has reached forty-three. I also have kept calendars and daily journals at work for the past thirty years. I go back through my calendars periodically, when I need inspiration or a kick-start.

So, as we battle this end-of-summer heat, when you’re in the garden pulling weeds, take a moment to think about how the two are related. For that matter, you could apply the same principles to any hobby or pastime. Happy creative thinking!

About the Author

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Toni Duval is founder and president of TLD-Training and Leadership Development, a full service training and skill development consulting firm creating and facilitating a wide variety of training programs including leadership and team building events, retreats, workshops and other special learning activities.

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