LESSONS FROM FARMING: LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT BEHAVIOURS
Farmers pay attention to the details. It is not always an innate quality. By sheer hard work, constant research, an investment in time, and consistent habits he or she fosters growth in ways others may not understand. A farmer works harder for better results. We could easily be talking about leadership: it is so much like gardening.
As leaders, it is too easy to see the role as one of domination and control. We are in charge and we want everyone to know that. Yet, if we tend a garden or a farm, we learn quickly that the plants have their own way of surviving in the wild. We cannot pull on the green stems. A nurturing approach is not "an" option in leadership; it is the only option. It is also something you can learn with practice and patience, like farming and gardening. To lead effectively, we must nurture. In many ways, the gardening analogy is better than any other analogy (say, running a race, rowing, or building a house). Some things that come out well are:
Strengthen the corner post:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . When building a fence, it is essential to have solid corner posts. Their purpose is to provide staying power of the tension so that the barbed wires stay taunt and useful. To gain this strength, a farmer needs to ensure the foundation for the hole is deep enough, well compacted, and braced to support the wires extending from at least two directions. We must be well-anchored and well-grounded to support the tensions and the reliance required to do the job consistently and continuously.
Plant well, harvest right:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. There is more planning which goes into farming than we might realize. Key questions need to be answered such as: What do we plant? Where do we plant it? Has the right soil preparation been done? When do we plant it? How do we care for it during the growing season? When do we harvest it? How can we maximize my harvest? Plan proactively, balancing timing with the right preparation to get the most results from all resources involved.
Look for the growth:. . . . . . . . . Growth will happen, especially with the most teachable people. Sometimes, we must look a little harder. We may have to get down on our hands and knees to see the germination in the farm, but when the first signs of life are observed, it is a wonderful discovery. The kind of excitement from seeing something grow needs only to be felt. If only we acted that excited as leaders in the workplace.
Pick rocks:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. There are mundane jobs which need to be done to prevent troubles later or at critical times. Picking rocks is one of those responsibilities. Big rocks translate into less soil to grow crops. Small rocks create potential problems at harvest – a rock going through the equipment can result in costly repairs and delays. Do the mundane jobs to clear the environment of potential problems and get the most out of what you have.
Nurture in any way possible: . . . . . . . . . New growth in a garden or a farm is hard to spot and even harder to nurture. It is a bit like the security industry. In security, we have to use any means possible to protect our files. Install a firewall, use anti-virus software, train employees. In farming and gardening, we have to build a fence, add plant food, and cover the seedlings if there is an imminent freeze. Great leaders do the same. Leadership is primarily an act of defence. You defend employees, protect them, give them a place to do their jobs. Any other arrangement can quickly turn into a dictatorship.
Plant seeds and give space to the sowers: . . . . . . . . . The best leaders know how to plant the germ of an idea. They are subtle. "What would it take to get this new product launch a few more clicks on Facebook?" Maybe we already know the answer. Planting a seed is a way to encourage others to think, to foster ambitious ideas, to encourage creativity. The alternative to this leadership style is being the one who always has the best idea. To employees, that is like taking a fully grown tomato plant, digging a hole, and placing it into the garden. The shade alone from that massive stalk will kill the seeds (and the ideas). When newcomers bring ideas from other industries and businesses, are they welcomed or are they rooted out because “that’s not how we do things here”? True leaders think about the whole garden.
et your hands dirty:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. Farmers are unafraid of a little or a lot of dirt. From planting to harvesting and from cattle to chickens, farmers will get their hands dirty. They are in the middle of the action; and they know the only way to help get things done is to get your hands dirty. Jump in and activate the work that needs to be done.
Remove impediments: . . . . . . . . . Maybe the primary act of all great leaders is to remove impediments. Weeds always inhibit growth in a garden. We have to get creative about this process. Resolve conflict. Reward people what they are worth so they can perform their job. Remove distractions and confront problems. Like the master gardener, we are the primary weed control expert charged with encouraging growth.
Give your word, keep your word:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. Farmers are helpful. If a neighbour needs a helping hand, it is extended. In rural communities, few words are generally spoken, but the words are always backed-up with action. There are few written agreements in farming; your hand-shake and your word are your commitments. If you say you are going to do something, you do it. Words and actions are bounded tightly together. Offer your commitment, keep your commitment. In the end, your reputation will be what remains.
Praise consistently: . . . . . . . . . Great leaders carry a watering can at all times. The job is highly dependent on our ability to nurture. Forget the sandwich principle (e.g., every negative remark should be "sandwiched" with one slice of praise on top and another on the bottom). Just praise. People have enough negative markers in their life for what they are doing wrong. We need to be the person who tells them what they are doing right and maybe, just maybe, they will grow into something amazing.
Consider the “season." : . . . . . . . . . In today’s 24-hour global economy, it would appear that there is no season, nothing that distinguishes night from day. But the smart leader watches the sky, reads the clouds, and can tell when there are shifts to indicate a new season. Bring products to market at the wrong time or introduce an idea without understanding timing and the “garden” can quickly resemble a piece of scorched earth.
Give credence to the unexpected and control what you can control.: . . . . . . . . . The pandemic has not only raised havoc but spawned dangerous storms throughout the world. Leaders face such conditions: market downturns, a coup in Africa, airline strikes, terrorist attacks. A great leader takes all precautions and then remains flexible and ready for the unexpected. Scenario planning, a strategy first employed by Royal Dutch Shell, brings experts from a wide range of fields together to discuss actions if different scenarios take place. Scenario planning allows you to think out—in advance—various options. In like fashion, a master gardener always has all the tools, sprays, and plant potions necessary for probable surprises.
Feed different plants differently: . . . . . . . . .. Not every plant needs the same thing, yet all plants must eat. A “garden-wise” leader understands “nothing is so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals." Just as each voice has its own unique sonogram, each employee, associate, and stakeholder needs a unique blend of “food." For some, the "food" is numbers. For many, it is the opportunity to learn and advance in knowledge. For others, it is the engaging nature of the work itself that offers fulfilment.
Weeding is backbreaking work: . . . . . . . . .. A great leader hates this part of the task. It means fact-finding, accountability, and time. Not everything that is “green” belongs in my garden. Not every associate belongs with you. In fact, firing customers at times can also be the healthiest long-term fertilizer for a vibrant business.
Store for a better day:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. After the crops are harvested, there are two options: sell right away or store it. At times, the money may be needed sooner rather than later. Usually, the harvest season is not the best time to sell – supplies higher, prices lower. Also, you may need reserves to help out during the bad times, when the weather delivers a blow and crops suffer. A buffer is needed from time-to-time. Keep a reserve – funds, personal energy, time, etc. Know the critical resources and be ready for the droughts and the long haul.
Leaders must take time to stop and “smell the roses." We can get so overwhelmed with the “work” of our garden that we forget why we planted it. When we step back and gaze at our enterprise, are we pleased with what we see?
Content Curated By: Dr Shoury Kuttappa