Why Every Leader Should Read Garden Catalogs in Winter

Leadership Focus

Why Every Leader Should Read Garden Catalogs in Winter

It was bitterly cold last week, with strong winds and patches of glare ice “decorating” the Denver sidewalks. While we had no snow, the ground of my garden more resembled concrete than rich soil. Even the squirrels gave up on trying to bury peanuts and other bits and morsels in the ground.

Every day, at around 1 p.m., the mail is delivered to VIM Executive Coaching. As I was sitting at my desk, the thermostat making the room warm and cozy, the thick, heirloom seed garden catalog made its way through the mail slot.

Treasures and Possibilities

It is an annual event for me (getting that catalog) but it has less to do with gardening or landscaping than it does with leadership and entrepreneurial efforts. Of course, the diversity and colors of the plants are beautiful and certainly the imagination runs wild with the tastes of everything from the varieties of lettuce to numerous varieties of squash, corn, eggplant and peppers. However, even those possibilities and garden treasures are not why I value the garden catalog.

In my opinion, and I know this is an opinion you’ve never heard before, a really good garden catalog should at least be required supplemental reading for every leadership or entrepreneurial development program in the country.

In the first place, my catalog shows me the thousands of possibilities but it also is quite honest with me in telling me that each possibility comes with a certain price. Let me explain. I live in Colorado, not in South Florida or along the Oregon Coast. I know that despite my best efforts, unless I construct a greenhouse or saturate the soil nearly every day, there will be seeds I should not plant. I am forced to respond to “what is,” and not to over-react to what should be or could be.

The authentic leader must not only perform in a similar fashion but to understand that given a certain set of conditions, expectations must be more reflective of the realities of the business climate, and not forced into a situation bound for failure. In Colorado, if I am very lucky, I have a three-month window in which to plant and harvest. If I plant seeds for a plant that requires a four-month maturation, I will not reach harvest.

If I hire employees who lack experience, and then drive them to complete a complex and difficult project, should I be surprised that the results were less than satisfactory? If I force untrained employees into a situation where they are almost certainly bound to fail, does that say more about them or myself?

In being an authentic leader where I really understand the strengths, weaknesses and capabilities of my staff do I not have a better chance of success than the leader who reacts and plows ahead? Yes, there is greatness in bold thinking just as there are amazing yields by planting a new variety in a previously “mediocre, low-producing field.” However, if I expect unrealistic results by making unrealistic demands I am not only being unfair to my staff and my organization but to myself.

I might find a new variety of onion in my trusty catalog that outperforms and is more delicious than an old variety, but I know ahead of time that my soil, moisture, sunlight, temperatures and growing season encourages onions. The garden supply company will sell me anything I find in their catalog. Nevertheless, if I plant orange trees in my Colorado garden and within months my plants are dead from cold, who is to blame?

Years ago, a business associate who was in the furniture manufacturing business was “clobbered” after losing tens of thousands of dollars from problems associated with substandard, imported merchandise. He started doing business with a vendor in China. He gave them a little money to produce prototypes, and they were beautiful. Then he gave them a great deal of money for a full production run, what came off the boat was junk, nearly impossible to sell.

He confided that he never fully researched the company, that he had no Chinese-speaking agent or staff, that he did not draw up a proper contract, that his specifications were vague and most importantly, that he never visited the company to view their facilities.

No Limit to Catalogs

There is almost no limit to garden catalogs and seeds, but really good gardeners, Master Gardeners, if you will, are in short supply. The same applies to leaders and entrepreneurs. Many of us may have unlimited vision, many of us may be ambitious and aspire to great things, but it takes talent, understanding, authenticity and the ability to be truly mindful to see the difference between beauty and weeds.

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