“Sometimes it’s not the seeds or the plants… it’s the soil.”

Leader How does your Garden Grow? Series finale

 “Sometimes it’s not the seeds or the plants… it’s the soil.” Part 5 of 5. 

Sometimes you find that despite your best efforts, your garden is not growing. You have planted good seeds. You have watered and nurtured them, but the plants are not growing.   As the leader of organization, you can find despite your efforts your organization is not growing, living up to its potential or is just stagnate. You have tried research-based practices, organizational strategies, great resources and have the best people in place but you are not seeing any growth or positive yields. Then you realize something profound. Sometimes the problem is not the seeds or the plants…the problem is the soil!

It is not what you’re are planting, it’s what you are planting them in. All dirt is not the same. All soil is not the same.   Soil can sometimes lack key nutrients that plants need to grow. This can be based on the region or the location. Moreover it can be based upon what was planted in the soil before. Certain types of plants or gardens can leave soil depleted.  Farmers rotate crops on certain lands so that it gives the soil a chance to recover. Likewise, the culture of your organization can be depleted. The culture of your organization can not be ready or can not be optimal to support or achieve growth.  The previous administration could have created a toxic work environment, or your current organization goals were too ambitious and over worked the soil and burned out the culture.  Whatever the case, as the lead gardener when you realize that the soil is depleted or not nurturing for your garden, you must fix it.  The soil is important because it nurtures your plants.  The culture provides the inspiration for your organization. It is what connects all the people in your school community.  It keeps your organization going day in and day out. It brings out the best in everyone and allows every to be their very best.

How do you fix the soil? This is an important question to answer. Dirt is dirt, right?  How do you fix the ground? A school is a school, right? The answer of course is no it is not. Every school is different, and every school culture is different.

When a gardener realizes that their soil is lacking, they find ways to nurture the soil. They add the nutrients to the soil.  They bring in fresh soil(ideas) and mix it into the depleted soil.  They are careful which plants they plant and when they plant them. Some gardeners even bring in outside help(shout out to all cooperative extension agents) to analyze their soil so that they can find exactly what it needs and what it is lacking.  Leaders in turn must look at the culture of their organization and find ways to fix and adjust it.  If you want to have a certain type of achievement or to meet certain goals, the culture is important to the seeds that you want to plant. By analyzing your soil can figure out exactly what is wrong with it and what the plants need to thrive. A master gardener will spend time learning. A leader must become a student of their organization. Perhaps morale is low in your organization. Maybe the work load is too much for members or maybe the people are willing but do not have the skills to do the work. In education, your school may not have the community support or stake holder buy in that your school needs. There could be a lack of resources in your school for your teachers and students. Maybe the soil of the school does not give or show enough gratitude and appreciation … after all it takes a lot of effort to push through dirt and mud to bloom.

Building relationships are important for the leader so that they can understand what the soil needs to nurture staff growth.  Through good relationships a better understanding of the history of the culture or your school can help you gain valuable information into why the culture is how it is and has developed.

Just like a master gardener knows that some plants are more resilient than other plants and thrive in the soil when other plants have not, a leader will know that there are staff member who have thrive when others have not. There are always teachers and staff who have remained with a school through good times, bad times, abundant times, lean times, good leadership and bad leadership. A good leader will take time to build relationships with them to listen and better understand the culture of the school …the good, the bad, and what is needed. Leadership is a people business. You win with people. You can not win without people and you cannot win consistently if you do not know your people.

Leaders need to realize that major culture shifts can take time. the leader must plant carefully and be realistically of what they plant. You don’t grow Oranges in Maine (at least not without massive effort and resources). It can take a while to build the perfect soil …sometimes through trial and error. However, you can find ways to be creative within the culture you have now …slowly making changes adding in additives here and a boost to the soil there.  Leaders can plant small ideas with big yields or easy wins that can boost confidence and morale. Leaders can sprinkle in small rewards and recognitions to boost the growth. Leaders can build relationships with their staff so they can better support them and grow a supportive culture.

Everybody can afford a little Miracle grow every now and then!

As leader:

  • Do you have good soil to nurture your planted seeds?
  • What are the needs in your organization’s culture that need to be addressed?
  • In what practical ways can you affect or address your culture to make it better for students? For teachers?  For parents?
  • What relationships do you have with people in your building? What do you know about them professionally and personally?

Read my blog posts and reflect to see “How your garden grows.” Please leave comments so that I can “grow” too.

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