Leader as Gardener

April 17, 2012

his morning I was reading William Rosenweig’s Oslo Business for Peace acceptance speech and was captivated by his analogy of a leader being a gardener. 

Rosenzweig said, “A gardener sees the world as a system of interdependent parts – where healthy, sustaining relationships are essential to the vitality of the whole. [Quoting author Karel Capek,]”A real gardener is not a person who cultivates flowers, but a person who cultivates the soil.” In business this has translated for me into the importance of developing agreements and partnerships where vision and values, purpose and intent are explicitly articulated, considered and aligned among all stakeholders of an enterprise – customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and the broader community and natural environment.”

Rosenzweig provides us a helpful focusing tool for leadership. Instead of orienting our actions on the plants or the eventual fruit, we are better served paying primary attention to nurturing the ecosystem.

Rosenzweig calls us to ask:

What kind of environment are we creating as leaders? Is it conducive to growth and creating deep, healthy roots?How might care for the soil today so ideas and people might flourish not only this season, but well into the future?How might we remove weeds, gently prune and add necessary nutrients to support those around us?

I recommend reading all of Rosenzweig’s speech, yet here’s some successful gardener attributes he highlights:

“Gardeners, like entrepreneurs are obsessed with latent potential – and can be known to be pathologically optimistic.”“In essence, the gardener’s work is a life of care.”“Showing up in person, shovel – and humility in hand is essential.”“The garden has taught me about patience and persistence and the ethical principles of generosity and reciprocity…For the gardener, composting is a transformative act – whereby last season’s clippings (or failures) can become next year’s source of vigor.”

How might we use the spring season to pull the weeds, lay the compost and plant new seeds not only outside, but within our organizations, communities and ourselves?

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

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