Leaders as Gardeners: Climate versus Control
“More things happen by accident when the culture is conducive than ever happen by design when it is not.”

This statement provoked my current series on leaders as gardeners and is in my mind probably the most significant aspect of the leader as gardener metaphor.

I guess what I’m exploring here is the importance of climate, the role that environmental conditions play in determining what grows and how well it grows. The point being you can sow what you like in a garden but if the climate and environmental conditions aren’t right then you will get disappointing results.

Translating this into the way in which we lead business communities: presenting, printing and promoting (sowing) may help to shape how an organisation grows but ultimately the growth of that community is defined by what the environmental conditions (culture) allows and encourages to grow. A somewhat sobering thought but perhaps at least an explanation in part for the lack of transformation experienced by business communities that overly rely on the “P’s” which have the potential to shape perception whilst leaving the substance unchanged.

If the environmental conditions of an organisation can be described as culture then it’s important to understand what shapes culture. In my mind it is little to do with what is said or printed and everything to do what is valued.

Values, as the word suggests, are valuable. Whatever you own that is valuable you tend to take care of, you don’t let valuables go lightly in fact you probably take steps to protect them. The same is true of values. Your values are things you will not give up easily, arguably not at all, even when under test. Your values shape you and your day to day interaction with those around you and ultimately your culture.

In my mind what a community values is not expressed definitively by what it says but what it does. What the community values is expressed through what it devotes time to, spends money on, celebrates, and conversely what it tolerates – returning to the garden metaphor, what it allows to grow and what it doesn’t.

So what’s the learning for leaders?

Leaders as gardeners don’t just spend time focused on sowing – presenting, printing and promoting – they pay attention to the environmental conditions, the culture, to the values of the community they are leading, expressed in the everyday life of that community not just the boardroom. They don’t just espouse values from the podium but embody them in their day to day relationship with those they lead. Leaders as gardeners are custodians of culture, they recognise the importance of creating the right environmental conditions for the people they lead to grow.

Mark Lawrence is a leadership and culture consultant