Leadership, Productivity, and My Vegetable Garden

Leadership, Productivity, and My Vegetable Garden

It happens every summer. No matter how good our intentions or how disciplined we are, at some point our vegetable garden gets away from us.

We know what we are supposed to do. Fertilize it by working in rich, organic material into the soil. Plant it. Water it. And keep the weeds out. If we do these basic things, we will have a decent harvest.

But too often we get distracted. We give it good attention in the few weeks after we plant it. But at some point during the summer, we just let it do it’s thing. Fortunately for us, we live in a part of the country where once your garden is established, watering isn’t usually an issue.

In our defense, this is not intentional. And we often have an excuse. Kids and family activities often take up a good portion of the weekend when we would normally give our garden attention. In fact it usually happens when we are away on vacation. But at some point, the garden goes crazy.

I blame it on the weeds. There are certain weeds that love the hottest and most humid part of the summer. It just so happens that I hate working in the garden during that same time. Heat. Sweat. Bugs. Dirt. Nasty!

As the summer wanes, at some point we buck up and tear into the garden. It’s hot and sticky, but after a few hours, the weeds are gone and the garden looks much better.

It’s also at this point that we rethink our planting strategy. Inevitably, we try to cram too much into our little garden and the plants grow over and into each other. But it’s too late to do much about it at this point.

We should have thinned out the plants when they were just inches tall.

Leadership is like keeping a garden.

Leadership requires constant weeding.

Keeping out extraneous and competing priorities is an ongoing task in personal and organizational productivity. Too often we let the “weeds” enter because at first they aren’t much of a problem. But if we let them take hold, we’ll find ourselves in a crisis that requires extra effort to overcome. Like when I return from vacation to a weed-filled garden.

Leadership is enhanced when we also “thin.”

Even if we do a good job of keeping the weeds under control, if we haven’t thinned the garden we may end up with too much of a good thing. We may have an abundance of “produce,” but it may be stunted and deformed because we tried to jam too much into the space we had. We can actually limit our productivity by trying to be too productive.

Produce from a garden that has been properly weeded and thinned will bring top dollar at the market. But no one wants the undersized, stunted, and deformed produce…unless it’s a lot cheaper.

The more verses better trade off.

Too often we focus so much on being more productive that we forget to evaluate if the more is producing better results. We get “weeding,” but “thinning” is hard.

When it comes to the world of leadership and productivity, there are quite a few resources that preach the concept of “weeding.” But there are fewer that focus on the harder task of “thinning.”

I recommend reading these books. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. You can read my brief review of Essentialism here. These are both excellent resources for digging into this leadership concept. (Another resource along these line is Phil Cooke’s One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do.)

More on weeding verses thinning.

Weeding focuses on eliminating the external competition.
Thinning intentionally eliminates even some of the internal competition.

Weeding focuses on producing the most.
Thinning focuses on producing the best.

Weeding removes the bad for the sake of the good.
Thinning removes some of the good for the sake of the best.

Good leaders weed, but great leaders thin.

-How have you seen this principle at play? Why do you think thinning is so difficult?

  • I have seen the similarities between gardening/farming and leadership success, but have never thought about the “thinning” aspect. Clever. Glad to find your blog!

    • Thanks Skip. I appreciate the feedback. I know I personally am always having that internal battle of wanting to add more and more, yet knowing that focusing on what is essential is likely better.