WISDOM LEADING: The Conversation

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Get Your Hands in the Dirt

Dr. Foster Mobley // Wisdom Leading

There's something primal and satisfying to me about digging in the soil. It's low-tech and meditative, strenuous and healthy. Moreover, the acts involved with gardening - preparing, tilling, amending, nurturing, harvesting - are all wonderful, if overused metaphors for leading. Think about it. How I prepare the soil is an apt description of laying the foundation for future performance through talent selection, onboarding, training, goal-setting and the like. Tilling speaks strongly to mid-course corrections with talent and plans to insure ultimate performance. One thing the gardening metaphor doesn't address is the parts of growing that lie outside the control of the gardener. Many leaders believe in a deterministic world, in which they control all the variables. Neither business, nor life are so predictable. The best we can ever hope to do is put the odds in our favor for a great outcome. We can plant the right seeds in the right time of year, water carefully, fertilize, provide protection from pests and do all the right things, but we can't make plants grow. Gardening and leadership are both lessons in diligence and humility. Our jobs as gardeners and leaders is to prepare appropriately, do the right things, follow our best practices, be as diligent as we can be-and at some point trust our team members will grow and flourish. We can't make a teammate rise up, any more than we can make a tomato appear. How are you tending the garden that is your work? How about the one that is your life?

There's something primal and satisfying to me about digging in the soil. It's low-tech and meditative, strenuous and healthy. Moreover, the acts involved with gardening - preparing, tilling, amending, nurturing, harvesting - are all wonderful, if overused metaphors for leading. Think about it. How I prepare the soil is an apt description of laying the foundation for future performance through talent selection, onboarding, training, goal-setting and the like. Tilling speaks strongly to mid-course corrections with talent and plans to insure ultimate performance.

One thing the gardening metaphor doesn't address is the parts of growing that lie outside the control of the gardener. Many leaders believe in a deterministic world, in which they control all the variables. Neither business, nor life are so predictable. The best we can ever hope to do is put the odds in our favor for a great outcome. We can plant the right seeds in the right time of year, water carefully, fertilize, provide protection from pests and do all the right things, but we can't make plants grow.

Gardening and leadership are both lessons in diligence and humility. Our jobs as gardeners and leaders is to prepare appropriately, do the right things, follow our best practices, be as diligent as we can be-and at some point trust our team members will grow and flourish. We can't make a teammate rise up, any more than we can make a tomato appear.

How are you tending the garden that is your work? How about the one that is your life?

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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams