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To be an effective leader, think like a gardener

By Karyn Santl

At the recent National Extension Conference on Volunteerism, Jones Loflin gave a keynote speech in which he asked, "How will you grow it when you return home?" Jones speaks globally about innovative yet practical solutions to workplace challenges.

An author whose books include "Always Growing", Jones made me think about leadership and how to move change forward - even in small ways. He said, "To be an effective leader, think like a gardener." I'm not much of a gardener, but his message stuck with me.

Grow – Create conditions where others can deliver their best work. A growth plan includes:
  • Creating the right environment for ideas to sprout
  • Aligning ideas with the mission and vision
  • Providing the right resources for ideas to grow
  • Discovering what motivates people to grow

Cultivate – Determine consistent actions that will help your ideas thrive. Loflin calls these "the 3 Ps"
  • Stay focused on the Priorities
  • Analyze Processes to ensure resources are used wisely
  • Evaluate how you work with People to build strong relationships

Prune – Remove obstacles that inhibit the growth of your ideas. In other words, what could you transfer, automate or drop?
  • Where do you need to cut back on something so you can grow forward with something else?
  • Are you trying to grow in so many directions that you can’t grow anything well?

Harvest – Celebrate productive results that take place while your ideas are growing.

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, has written extensively about developing a growth mindset versus a fixed mind-set. She has found that students with a growth mind-set seek out learning, develop deeper learning strategies and strive to honestly assess their weaknesses. In other words, they grow.

As adults in leadership roles, we need to have a growth mind-set and apply Loflin's principles to help ourselves to grow -- as well as the adults and young people we lead.

As for me, one idea that I am trying to grow is just to be creative first. The work that moves priorities and change within my programming, then do reactive work last. This means adjusting how my work day flows. My hope is that as I cultivate high-quality learning environments and prune time wasters such as letting email set my agenda, I will be able to harvest high-quality opportunities for youth.

What do you want to grow, cultivate and prune to have a successful harvest?

-- Karyn SantlExtension educator

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  1. WOW Karyn! What a fantastic summary of my comments, and their connection to the work of extension leaders. Thrilled that you found my message of value. Thanks for ALL you do to "grow" others. #LeadByGrowing

    1. Thanks Jones! I truly enjoyed your presentation.

  2. Hi Karyn! Gardening has always been one of my favorite ways to refresh, even after a long day at work. I appreciate rethinking how I start my work days as well and finding ways to apply the grow, cultivate and prune concepts. Staying focused on supporting volunteers and youth workers to help youth learn and lead is a priority to want to cultivate while being open to fresh news ways for this to happen. I enjoyed Jones Loflin's message at NECV and appreciate your refresher and links to additional mindset tools!

    1. Thanks Carrie! The gardening concept is an easy way to "grow" in our work.


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