What Gardening Can Teach You About Being an Effective Leader

Neighborhood Centers CEO Angela Blanchard tells us how the discipline required to tend a garden has helped her make the right practical and strategic decisions for her organization.

Neighborhood Centers CEO Angela Blanchard is growing a lot in her communities. She oversees the largest charitable organization in Texas, a network of 74 sites that provide education, home care, and other services to more than 500,000 people annually--an increase of almost 200,000 from just two years ago. But despite the complexity of her job, she says she often takes business inspiration from a far simpler community experience--her years as an avid gardener. The most important lesson, she says: To grow something successfully, you must first know what not to grow.

"I've led an organization for years, and we've grown it year over year," says Blanchard. "Tend by watering what you want; weed what you don't. Pay attention to the things that you want to grow around you, and pull out and eliminate those things you don't. Any gardener knows it's not a big ol' rush to do everything, but a constant tending. And weeding quickly is best. You want to pull them up fast."

This is an especially useful way to manage her personal schedule, she says: "Every day we get a request for me to speak or do a workshop. I need to get really thoughtful for the things that are really enriching for me and others, and learn how to recognize those, and quickly say no to everything else--allowing people to move quickly down the road and get what they need if I'm not it."

But selective watering and weeding can't be a static process. In business, she says, the flowers you worked hard to grow may become the weeds you need to pull. "I think leaders have a huge challenge to recognize what's not working--is it teaching us something, or just draining resources?" she says. "We had a program that involved youth, and from the beginning the structure didn't work. You could tell the people were really trying, but it looked like a plant growing not in its native habitat. So we had to go back to the drawing board and find new partners and a new place. And we did, and it worked."

[Image: Flickr user Chichacha]

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