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Growing and learning when we don’t know what to expect

By Nancy Hegland

Seedling growing up from the soil
Years ago while in a leadership program, I was asked to develop my leadership philosophy. I clearly remember sitting outside at the conference center wondering exactly what I should write and searching my brain for ideas. It then came to me that my leadership philosophy would be focused on a blooming plant. It was centered on the various stages that a blooming plant experiences as well as the outside factors that contribute to the success of a plant’s growth. 

I believe that as we work in the field of youth development we need to seek ways to grow and learn, even though during times of uncertainty it seems more challenging. As leaders, we may also need to explore the best ways to lead, as change continues to occur and we merge our past and new ways of working into the future.

In his book, Always Growing, Jones Loflin shares four ideas on how to use this gardening season to prepare for the next one. These ideas can be focused on individuals, as well as each program that is designed and delivered.
  • Nurture what is already growing. While I am waiting to purchase plants for my containers, the bulbs, budding trees, and grass need my attention now. This is a good time to step back and spend time connecting with others on your team. Share your gratitude for new ideas, willingness to find solutions to tough situations, and dedication to yourself and your program. How have you nurtured individuals on your team? How have you strengthened programs?
  • Choose something you can grow during this season. What skills do you want to improve?  What will benefit from your growth? This year, I am being intentional about participating in a racial equity in education learning series and a virtual book group focused on leadership development. I am taking the time that I need to grow, which is connecting me with new people and ideas. What are you doing to grow during this season?
  • Intensely plan what you will grow in the coming season. What's on the horizon? At a recent meeting, team members were asked to review and adapt plans for the next six months. It seemed like we had just done this, but in order to remain relevant and ensure programs were focused on the needs of communities, we needed to reassess and be ready to change. We certainly knew that was essential in 2020 and will continue to see the benefits as we develop new plans for the future.
  • Set aside time to reflect on successful harvests from past seasons. Have you taken the time to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year? Think about the people, programs and impacts that have been made. Share your appreciation with others through a hand written note, shout out on social media, or by picking up the phone. These gestures of affirmation will have a lasting impression.

While I don’t know what this growing season will look like, I do know that it will be important to plant the seeds, provide adequate water, nutrients and well as spend time weeding and pruning.  It’s so important for plants and leaders to be at their most vibrant state.

-- Nancy Hegland, Extension program leader

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  1. I love nature-based analogies and metaphors, and your comparison of tending a garden and tending a program is no different. I especially like the idea of planning. If you don't plan you could poorly space your plants and get growth by no fruit. Best plan would be to think about companion plants, and plan accordingly. So many ways to go with that analogy!

  2. If a human is a perennial plant, we can be uprooted, divided, and moved, and still we can grow. We may have to spend some time below the surface, strengthening our roots again, and finding where we will get our engergy in the new space. Given the opportunity, we can rise and bloom again.

  3. Nancy, I appreciate your consideration on this topic. When managed or facilitated the element of uncertainty can bring a conducive environment for learning and growth. Some of the factors I consider are:

    Is there a shared understanding of the core mission or values?
    How equipped are individuals/programs at responding to the needs present in the uncertainty?
    What is their tolerance for risk/adventure? Is the risk real or perceived?
    How open are individuals/programs to change?
    Do they have someone modeling or supporting their experience?

    When these elements are addressed I think programs can effectively grow and be strengthened during times of uncertainty.


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