6 Connections Between Gardening And Great Leadership

great leadership leadership leadership development learning personal development team growth Oct 02, 2023
gardening and leadership connections

I love gardening. It’s one of the rare occasions that I can totally switch off from work and just enjoy some ‘me’ time. 

It’s also when I do some of my best thinking. So with a combination of rare, unseasonably warm Scottish sunshine this weekend, I was so happy to be pottering in our new garden.

Leadership is so much like gardening

In many ways, the gardening analogy is better than any other: it’s hard work, a huge investment in time and requires consistent habits to foster growth. (There’s also a bit of transplanting and dead-heading to be done to see the garden in its true glory!) While the purposes may be different, the steps gardeners take to care for their gardens are very similar to those that leaders take to care for their people. 

Here are six connections I’ve made between growing plants and growing people: 

1. Prepare the ground

>In gardening, preparation of the soil plays a part not only in the early development of a plant but the nurturing and development throughout its life. Gardeners know how to support seedlings and protect them from the elements. 
Great leaders do the same. You must support your people, protect them, give them a safe place to do their jobs. You must plant your people in an environment conducive to their growth and believe in that growth. When leaders believe in those they are leading and coaching, they have the best chance for long term success.
Are you tending to your team? Do you discuss your expectations, provide development opportunities, pave the way and empower them for success? Or are you expecting prize winning roses to magically appear from a packet of seeds.

2. Nourish them with learning

Gardeners know their work isn’t done after planting. They must nurture their plants by providing an ongoing source nourishment. Whilst they take great pride in their own efforts, the greatest satisfaction comes from seeing their plants grow, develop and mature.
Great leaders know that to lead effectively, you have to nurture. They know how to nourish their people with learning opportunities; training courses, in-house mentoring, team-building or any of a hundred other learning interventions. We must provide continuous opportunities in order to nurture talent and grow potential.
In their role as coaches, great leaders derive great satisfaction and joy from seeing their people grow and mature.
It seems to me that this nurturing approach is not just an option in leadership; it’s the only option.

A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
Liberty Hyde Bailey

3. Get excited by progress

The best gardeners enjoy the whole growing season, but for me, that moment of total joy seeing the seedlings take root in my garden is my favourite part of gardening.  It’s not the realisation that I’ve done an amazing job, rather a sense of excitement that I’ve played a part in creating the garden I planned for.
Great leaders realise that in the right conditions, people do learn, grow, change and thrive. Their harvest is the growth of those they lead and the enhanced performance that comes with it.
And like the best gardeners, great leaders enjoy the coaching process – it isn’t just a means to an end – however valuable or needed that end might be.

4. Remove the weeds

Weeds grow all by themselves and they hinder growth.  New growth is hard to spot and even harder to nurture.
Great leaders know that like prize flowers, there’s a lot of work that goes into a raising a high-performing team.  All too often, conversations around performance are left until the weeds have taken over and then it’s an arduous task to return them to their best.  And the results will never be as good when you’ve waited too long to correct an issue.
A 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 will be minimal.
Like a gardener, you are the weed control expert responsible for ensuring growth.

5. Shower with praise

Gardeners know just how much water their gardens need to grow.  They also how that regular pruning is vital to encourage new growth, stronger plants.  As leaders and coaches we must provide feedback – the mid-course correction and advice that helps people continuing to move in the proper direction.
Great leaders carry a watering can at all times. The job is highly dependent on your ability to nurture, to shower with praise.
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.

6. Let them grow

While gardeners put time, effort and love into caring for their plants, they have no illusion of control; in fact you quickly learn that plants have their own way of surviving without you.
Great leaders work to support and help those they are leading and coaching, yet in the end they accept that their efforts will ultimately be determined by the performer themselves.
Yes, we can create the right growing conditions, plant a variety of plants that co-exist, feed them and watch them grow.  We correct as we go by weeding, mulching, watering and fertilizing.  And the end result – including a few failures together with some surprises – is a beautiful, colourful array of wonder.  But we still don’t have control.
So rather than trying to control our people, we need to identify how to create the right growing conditions for healthy relationships, collaborative co-existence and productive work.

As you work in your garden or as you watch gardens around you grow this spring, think about the connections and the lessons you can learn as a leader. Recognize that as a leader you are in the growing business: you are growing people towards their potential.

That’s not to say we can’t dig up a few things and replant them here and there. Great leaders are always tweaking and improving.

>Are you a gardener? What similarities do you see between gardening and your leadership?

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