The Culture Farmer

As leaders, we must plant the seeds of change long before the harvest…

Not too many years back, farming was a staple of the American way of life.  For some it served as an economic source of support, and for others it was an outright necessity for survival and their very existence.

Fast-forward to our current world and many would be hard pressed to remember the last time they saw or even passed by a farm.  Just as we would not be surprised to know that many of today’s children probably think that their food comes from a McDonald’s or a local supermarket.

And while farming does not hold it’s same indispensable position in our modern way of life that it once had, it does provide great lessons on how leaders can continue to grow and nourish the culture, ideas and creative thinking deemed necessary to keep their organizations moving forward.

In fact, today’s leaders can be seen as the idea and culture farmers that drive their organizations.  And as idea and culture farmers, those leaders must…

  • Till the land – Good farmers know that a good crops requires good soil…just as great leaders understand that if they are going to grow a strong culture, they need to create the right environment for that to occur.  The right soil does not just happen, it has to prepped, tilled, fertilized and made ready.  Especially, if the seeds they plant are going to have an adequate opportunity to grow and flourish.  And just like any good farmer, leaders have to roll up their sleeves and invest themselves in the prep work necessary to create that environment.
  • Plant the seeds – Good farmers understand that it is not just the soil, that it takes seeds to grow a crop.  And not all seeds will take or grow.  Just as great leaders realize that a readied environment is not enough, they have to continually plant the seeds of change.  And just like the farmer that knows all seeds won’t grow, great leaders acknowledge that not all ideas will take hold or even survive.  Great leaders  understand the necessity of planting idea seeds throughout the organization and monitoring to see where they take root, where they sprout, where they begin to grow.
  • Timing, finding the right cycle – It is not enough to have great soil if a farmer plants and harvests at the wrong time.  Either mistake will hurt any chance of having a strong crop.  In much the same way, a great leader understands when it is the right time to move forward with any change, initiative, idea, or project.  Lack of  timing will undercut the chances that those seeds of change will take hold and reach fruition.  Timing is of the essence for any initiative, innovation or idea take root and grow.
  • Nurture and nourish – It is never enough for any farmer to just plant seeds…they must tend to, nourish and protect those seeds.  In much the same way, a leader has to provide, nourish and protect their environment.  Creating a trusting and safe place where those they lead can learn and grow.  And just like the farmer, the leader has to pull any weeds and remove rocks that could eventually choke out and wither the growth of those seeds.  Farmers and leaders have to constantly tend their fields.
  • The harvest – Good farmers know when it is time to harvest their crops…too early and the harvest isn’t ripe, too late and they are overripe and ruined.  In much the same manner, a great leader knows when an idea or initiative is ripe and ready.  Too early and the people and culture are not accepting and ready to move forward, too late and the idea or initiative has passed its time and has lost its value.
  • To the table – Once a crop has harvested, it can serve as the food and life source for those that choose to partake in it’s nourishment.  In much the same way, when a leader harvests an idea or initiative at the right time it gives life to the organization and the people within.  It provides the energy source to spur the organization forward.  It fuels growth and moementum.

In leadership, as in farming, some years will be better than others and some crops will reap bigger harvests than others.  It is an ongoing process, and a lot of work.  Just remember, whether planting a crop, sprouting an idea, or growing a culture, it takes time, hard work, and a wealth of nurturing, caring and love.

1 thought on “The Culture Farmer

  1. Nice piece, Pal.

    An extension on your metaphor: Most people would be surprised to learn that less than 1% of the land on the earth is covered in the kind of rich soil that can produce good crops. The rest is covered with water, deserts, nutritionally poor soil, and Los Angeles.

    What that means is it is INCREDIBLY important for farmers to protect the soil that they have available to them. It’s more than just protecting their crops and seeds. The soil itself matters — and given the tendency of wind to carry good soil away and over-fertilization to kill the natural bacteria in soils, protecting soil is harder than ever before.

    I wonder if this connects to the role that school leaders must play in protecting their schools from the crap pushed upon them by state mandates and central offices. To me, surrounding your building’s intellectual soil with “innovation breaks” designed to protect your newest change efforts from the winds of change that are constantly screaming around our schools is one of the most important roles that school leaders can play.

    Any of this make sense?

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