Leadership Lessons from the Garden


This past long weekend seemed like a great time to stop and smell the roses. Or, at least, to plant some new flowers in my garden. These are pink dahlias, some of my favorites. As I pruned and potted, I couldn’t help but ponder literature’s love of gardening (along with flowing rivers) as a metaphor for growth and change. Here are a few brief leadership lessons that every gardener – as well as every great leader – knows:

  • Nourishment. A leader has to create an environment where people can do their best work. This doesn’t necessarily mean lavish praise, nor does it mean undue criticism. It simply means setting a tone for people to trust and respect each other enough to share their authentic selves, bring new ideas to the table, and voice dissenting opinions. Leaders feed hope.
  • Experimentation. It may seem obvious that if one thing doesn’t work, you’ve got to try something else. But it’s not. Plenty of individuals and organizations get stuck in doing the same things over and over (remember the definition of crazy?). Check out my book You Unstuck if you need a refresher on this. Gardeners know you’ve got to shift plants around to find the best sun/shade combination, you have to test water levels to determine their preferences, and you’ve got to play with the aesthetics of color and height to find the most pleasing arrangements. Leaders are willing to work at it until it works.
  • Consistency. The best gardeners – and leaders –  practice the art of continuous improvement (also known as kaizen),. They understand that positive change cannot be a one-off or random event but must be an ongoing habit. After all, you can’t feed a flower once in a while. Consistency doesn’t negate innovation, in fact, it creates a structure in which people can take risks, try bold actions, and master new skills. Leaders know that minding the basics encourages growth.

Are you a gardener? Share your best tips for planting flowers or empowering your people!

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