Are You a Gardener? How to Tend to People
I recently heard the analogy that leaders must be like gardeners. This immediately brought to mind two gardeners I have known well: my grandma, Tamam, and my step-dad, Jack. Thinking of them and how they carefully tended their gardens has taught me a lot about leadership.
When I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, I visited my grandparents in their small apartment overlooking an alley between the tall, grey residential buildings. As soon as I’d enter the narrow pathway, I would immediately spot one balcony with beautiful plants dangling and cuddling the walls. There were so many of them overtaking all three walls of the little elevated patio. That was my grandma’s balcony.
Jack, my step-dad, is also an avid gardener. In the spring, the front and back yards are bursting with many species of flowers. Last year, there were over thirty different kinds in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. And I have watched him year after year tend to the plants and flowers, giving them his utmost attention and care.
I gave up gardening many years ago after I had one plant that died despite all my efforts to save it. But I have never given up on people. As I reflect on the wonderful gardeners in my life, here is what I notice about them and how they demonstrate the character of a leader through their affinity for gardening.
Tend To People Like a Gardener
Gardeners love their plants. I see a gardener’s face light up when he observes the growth of his plants and flowers. It is somewhat strange to witness if you are not a gardner. It’s love. And that’s how it must be for us in leadership. I imagine it is also peculiar to a non-leader when he observes a healthy leader with his people. Great leaders love their people, delight in their growth and development, and invest resources into seeing good things happen for them.
Gardening produces joy. The mere act of devoting oneself to the task of gardening brings joy. But make no mistake, it is hard work. In the heat and the cold, there is digging and heavy lifting to be done to care for a garden. Much effort is extended daily to keep every plant thriving. But to the gardener, the work yields happiness. The same is true in leadership. To grow healthy people and thriving organizations, much work is required, but the resulting success brings joy to everyone.
Gardeners are gentle with their plants and flowers. Gardeners are very attentive and nurturing. They are gentle. They know even the hardiest breeds require tender care. The same can be said of seasoned leaders. Leaders know even the strongest people need love and support. People need encouragement for the journey.
Gardeners are consistent in nurturing their plants. If you have known great gardeners, then you’ve probably seen this in action. Great gardeners are consistent. Gardening is not an event in the spring. It is a daily commitment to nurture the livelihood of your plants and flowers. It’s not something you do for your plants one day, then walk away from them and leave them on their own. Neither is leadership. Established, attentive leaders tend to their people, or are at least are mindful of them, daily. They give their people consistent care, not just when they feel like it.
Gardeners prune their plants when they must. Pruning is a part of the process of gardening. Unfruitful branches must be cut back to allow the others to thrive. In leadership, cuts must be made sometimes. Even when they are painful, they are not intended to hurt, but to help. Great leaders have the courage to make difficult choices and have truthful conversations even when others can’t see the overarching benefits.
I thank God for allowing me to witness the immense care and love of two gardeners in my lifetime. It has given me a picture of what leaders must do in order to carefully tend to their people. Leadership is a heart-felt and sacrificial commitment to nurture others.
Join with me in caring for our people like great gardeners do.