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on gardening and leadership

Like many of us in lockdown, or seclusion as some overseas are calling it, I am spending more time in my garden than I probably would have done, although, for me, I am still working on a project that was conceived around the time that Covid-19 was taking hold in China and we were still in blissful ignorance of what was about to descend on the world.

Gardening gives you time to think and one of those random thoughts that have passed through my grey cells as I have been weeding and pruning is how much of what I have been doing in my front and back yards ties in to the leadership lessons that I have learned down the years.

It may seem odd that such solitary activities give rise to thoughts of leading, but one of the crucial talents that a leader needs is self discipline. Without that it is easy to lose focus and drift off track. In the business world you are dealing with customers, suppliers, competitors and regulators who create a dynamic environment much of which you cannot control despite any effort to influence it. The expression juggling chainsaws is a little extreme, but is not far off the mark at times and the person at the top of the team needs to be watching, evaluating, re-calculating, delegating, motivating, monitoring, planning and driving. Focus is essential.

Out in the garden things may seem more relaxed with just you and the vegetation, but that is an illusion to some degree for the equivalent of your business marketplace is nature and she never sleeps. Weeds are just plants that you don’t want and they are usually the most successful. They are resilient because they are left to evolve to their strengths; they compete to survive. Cultivated plants are much weaker as they are bred for other things and they need much more care to enable them to survive and flourish. The slugs, snails and aphids all ignore my weeds, but will destroy the stuff that I have spent my hard earned cash on in hours. Leadership 101 really; life is not fair and shit happens.

Tending to the garden requires planning, but also the ability to church the lan out of the window tom deal with the unexpected. Take weather. You check the forecasts (two or three at least) to get a feel for what is coming up. Like any business forecast the data will get less robust the further away you move, but, also like in business, the forecasts rarely agree exactly and you plan on worst case or maybe averaging the predictions depending on what you have in mind. What you get is rarely what you expect and you make do with what you get (sound familiar; sales forecasts anyone, or maybe delivery dates?).

Looking after a garden also means a lot of boring drudgery work, but you have to do it. Time management is all over this. You set aside maybe half an hour do do some pruning or weeding, but once you start you find something else and, if you are not focused you are still at it an hour later to the detriment of something else and you are on the back foot as far as getting what you planned for the day done. Pruning is a case in point for me as last week I decided to tackle the ivy growing over from next door where it has wrecked one of my fence panels. The plan was to strip the ivy, pull out what was left of the old panel and replace it with a new one that has been sat there since last year (when I was planning on doing it, but got distracted…). It should have taken me about 15 minutes to strip enough ivy to do the job, but an hour and a half later the Berkshire Belle was at the back door enquiring when I planned to cook her dinner; I had almost cleared the length of the fence.

These mindless tasks are a minefield for me. Sometimes I get bored immediately, give up and move on to something else which leaves a problem getting worse (and needing more time when I do get around to it), but at other times I get into the groove with my eyes and hands working on their own whilst my mind wanders off into, well anything really. I have to really work hard at keeping on track and it is an area where a leader’s followers need to pick up the tone because if they see you wandering off track where do you think that they will go? Do what needs doing and if that is not what you had planned then be sure you understand why you are changing tack and when you need to be turning back onto a course to recover.

I do. not mean to imply that gardening is a high stress environment, but then neither is leadership all of the time and when you have either activity under a modicum of control then both can be quite relaxing and certainly both will give pleasure. In that last sentence the key word is probably control. Whilst many of us get an element of pleasure from the gang-ho antics of firefighting and a good panic now and again can be fun in the aftermath, being in control is far better.

I will be back in the garden later weaving the essential periodic maintenance tasks into my various projects that make ups the overall strategy and doing my best to keep it all on track using the resources that I have whilst staying within my budget. Sound familiar?

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