Landscaping and leadership both require growth. I had the opportunity to connect over Coffee with Reagan Hines last week. Reagan owns Lakewood Landscape Management in the community and has followed Leadership and Main since the beginning.
We share a mutual interest in landscaping. His business is landscaping. My career started in that world with the maintenance of parks and sports fields. That experience gave me a decent understanding of what goes into landscaping. It grew my understanding of turf grass management, irrigation, fertilization and weed control.
In my early twenties, I tried to attend every Georgia Recreation and Parks Association training that I could and worked to create connections with people who were further ahead of me in the field to gain a better understanding of best practices. Never would I have thought it would lay the groundwork for my leadership development. In my late twenties, I tried to attend every leadership seminar and surround myself with people who were further ahead of me in the leadership world.
After hanging out with Reagan, I thought more about the concept of landscaping and leadership. I have always connected the two, but did not realize how many connections there were. Here are five things landscaping can teach us about leadership:
Grow Roots, Not Grass
Most people evaluate the health of grass by what appears on the surface. The blades of grass are all we see. There is a process in turf grass management called aeration. Aeration pulls cores (see below) from the soil and creates space for water and nutrients to get down to the root system. The core that is removed usually reaches deeper than the lowest root does. As the water and the nutrients penetrate deeper in the soil via the path created, it makes the roots reach deeper. The deeper the roots reach, the healthier the blade of grass.
Sometimes we need to aerate our leadership worlds. We need to create space for enrichment for ourselves. Our schedules become dominated with stuff. Sometimes we must remove stuff in our world to create space to grow. We need to grow ourselves below the surface.
Give It The Attention It Deserves
The knowledge I gained through working on parks and sports fields translated to being meticulous about my own lawn. I have a detailed regimen for it. I weedeat, edge, mow in one direction, mow in the opposite direction, and blow. All in that order. It takes more time doing it this way, but produces a better final product.
It brings me great satisfaction to stand in the street when the process is complete and look at the end result. The time and attention I give the lawn brings it to life. On the contrary, when I am in a hurry and skip steps in the process, I do not view the final product the same way. My view from the street is a subpar final product. It is reflective of the lack of time and attention I gave it.
In leadership, the time and attention we give our people is critically important. You cannot shortchange your people here. This may be one of the easiest places to stumble as a leader. There are so many things competing for your time and attention. Walk out to the street of your organization and look at your people. What is the final product you see? Are you bringing people to life?
Fix Broken Things
In the world of landscaping, one of the peskiest things to maintain is an irrigation system. The primary issue with irrigation is leaks. The problem with a leak is that you usually do not find out right away. Most are small, slow leaks. You may not even discover it until you get your next water bill.
The best way to find a leak early is to look for signs and be observant. Maybe it is a patch of grass that is darker than the areas around it or a wet mushy area. Breaks are easier to find because pressure has likely broken the line and water is pouring out causing a bigger issue.
In leadership, we must look for things that may be broken in our organizations. It could be something small that is a symptom of a greater issue below the surface. Those are the harder issues to recognize. Failure to identify those issues early may result in compounding problems for your organization. It can turn into something more costly to repair later.
Know The Environment
There are a lot of varieties of grass out there. Rye, fescue, bermuda, and zoysia just to name a few common ones. They are all great grasses, but need the right environment to grow. Some like cooler weather and shade, some like warmth and full sun.
Taking a grass and putting it in the right environment is key. I love the look of ryegrass. When planted in the fall in North Georgia, it will produce a beautiful dark green color. If you try to plant the same grass in the middle of summer here, it is not going to work. I can like the grass all I want, but in the wrong conditions, it just won’t grow. Kind of like a square peg in a round hole.
As leaders, we need to be aware of the environment we plant our people in. We need to make sure the person has the right conditions for their growth. Is it the right time to plant them in a particular position? Is there a season coming later that is more favorable for their growth? All things we have to wrestle with as leaders. Know the environment.
Prescribe The Right Nutrients
Adding the right nutrients to the soil is important to healthy grass. If you go to your local home improvement store, you will find bags of fertilizer. The label will show three numbers, i.e. 10-10-10. Each number represents the percentage of each key nutrients found in the bag that make up the mix. The first number represents nitrogen, the second is phosphorus, the third is potassium. Depending on the season, grass requires varying amounts of each for growth.
The people you lead may need different nourishment depending on the season. It could be time and attention like we discussed earlier. Maybe it is skill development, space, encouragement, or even tough love. People will grow when the right nutrients are prescribed.
For the last few months I have drifted from giving my lawn the time and attention that it needs. With my recent job transition into City Management, my time and attention has been elsewhere. It has been with our people.
Fortunately, my dad has been living with us since May (See post Fire is Dangerous, Home is Safe) and has picked up the slack. Today was the first day in a while I cut the yard myself and went through my routine. The final product was something to be proud of and reflective of the investment of my time and attention.
Whether you know anything about landscaping or not, hopefully this created a connection for you. I have leaned on these principles for years. There is a lot that can be learned between landscaping and leadership.
Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection
Are you growing roots or grass? You giving your people the time and attention they need? Are you catching things before they break? Your people getting planted in the right environment? With the right nutrients in the right season?