The Leadership Imperative -
Lessons From the Farm
summarized by Rick Sidorowicz

Metaphors can be used to communicate very powerful images to guide behaviour. The ultimate effectiveness of metaphors and images appears to be related to their simplicity, as the following lessons from the farm illustrate. Here are six simple tenets that provide simple yet important 'country' wisdom in application to a variety of more 'enlightened' contexts.

1. Never use cheap seed

Seeds are like ideas. In the final analysis the cost of the seed is a very small part of the cost of a farming operation. The cost of an idea is also a very small part compared to the investments that will be made to develop that idea. So use the best seed you can find, and do whatever you can to obtain the best ideas before you invest in their development.

2. The secret of gardening is to prepare the soil

We look at what grows above ground but most of what a plant is doing is out of sight. The best seed will not grow in poorly prepared soil. And usually, with well prepared soil, and good quality seeds, it is very difficult to make it go wrong. The preparation before planting makes most of the difference in success.

3. Timing is critical

The best seed planted too early may be killed by an untimely frost. The best seed planted late will not reach maturity and will not bear fruit. Farmers spend a lot of time looking at the sky, feeling the soil, and doing whatever is necessary to determine the right time to plant. Timing is critical.

4. The plants that hold firmest are the ones that develop their own roots

You cannot develop strong roots by packing the soil. Prepare the soil, put in the seed, and let it hold on for itself. You may have to protect the plant when it is small but the less protection you give it the hardier it will ultimately be. The healthiest plants are those that develop their own strong roots and capabilities.

5. Excessive watering produces weakness not strength

Too much water weakens a plant as it will not need to extend its roots deep into the earth. Similarly, too much fertilizer will develop plants that produce all leaves and no fruit. Ideas, and people, like plants, thrive with a degree of challenge and struggle.

6. In spite of your best efforts some plants will die

You will always be disappointed if you expect every plant to be a prizewinner. If you count on all plants to live you will go hungry. Farmers deal with reality, learn to live with failure and not take it personally. They also learn, adapt, and take success and failure in stride and in a longer perspective, in harmony with their environment.

Perhaps as the pace of what we do accelerates we should seek wisdom in simple truths and in the realities of life. The metaphor is attributed to Gerald Weinberg, in The Secrets of Consulting, Dorset House Publishing, New York, 1985.

Rick Sidorowicz is the Publisher and Editor of The CEO Refresher and
the Minister of Culture of High Performance Retail.

Many more articles in The Leadership Imperative in The CEO Refresher Archives


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