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Tending the Garden:
A Few Rows, A Little Chaos

As I write this, I can see the Brothers Range of the Olympic Mountains outside my window in West Seattle. It’s stunning. I never get over it, and it never gets old.
My view reaches out past my little backyard garden, a rickety cedar fence, and a hill covered with blackberries. When I bought the house, I walked around with the inspector. We stood at the foot of the west-facing hill, the twisted vines and prickly brambles twining around each other, thrusting up and out, back down into the soil again.

“Well,” I sighed, “I guess I will have to find someone to remove all these bushes.”

We stood a moment looking at the beautiful chaos of the hillside beneath the house I wanted to buy.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Those blackberries have been holding up that hill for about a hundred years.”

I leave the brambles alone. It’s not picturesque, and truth be told, it’s not even very neighborly. About once every other month, the vines creeping out over the sidewalk are cut back so people can go for their dog walks and baby strolls. Every August, if I remember, I go back there and pick the warm berries to eat fresh with breakfast or freeze for smoothies or drop into a bowl with vanilla ice cream. I don’t tend this garden. I let it be wild, which is infinitely different from what happens inside the fence: an espaliered pear tree up against the north side, three large livestock troughs filled with organic soil and edibles that are easy to harvest, containers of tomatoes and herbs and geraniums, and colorful pots with dahlias and strawberries. It’s sort of orderly. I pull weeds and pick and trim.

I think organizations are like this too: there are wild, chaotic parts that might be left alone because they are actually holding up the hillside – the foundation – of the organization. And, there are other parts that require your care, your thoughtfulness, your purposeful pruning.

The real question is how are you attending to the soul of your organization or team? How are you letting alone what needs to flourish and paying close attention to what needs to be nourished and weeded on a regular basis?
What should be wild? I think spaces and places for conversations, for creativity, and for idea generation. These are meetings, retreats, or sessions without an agenda other than to explore and to ignite. These are spontaneous afternoons or mornings where you pull out the stops and allow everyone to roll up their sleeves and dive into a meaty challenge or question. These are the spaces between the parameters – the places where “how” resides – where you might set a goal or outcome, but you allow your team or individuals to map out the journey to get there.

What should be nourished and tended? Pruned and cut back? Take time to nourish and tend the relationships with your team, as well as your customers or clients. You should be thoughtful and organized in creating approaches for performance, marketing, outreach. Perhaps, you are systematic: you plant seeds, you water and fertilize, and you cultivate patience for the harvest. You also practice determination and discipline for letting go – of the conversations, tired questions, systems that don’t work, and ineffective measures – and you make way for the good seeds to flourish. You weed out any poisons, like gossip, bullying, and shaming. You deal with interpersonal strife by having the courageous conversations and asking for what you need, with a time frame and specificity to make it happen.

Sometimes, we get stuck thinking that everything will just happen organically, without our assistance or interference; other times, we think the neat, orderly rows of seeds we plant will produce the greatest harvest. But every good gardener knows it’s both: it’s planting the right seeds, taking care, weeding, pruning. It’s also allowing the wind to carry a seed where we capture the magic of photosynthesis and something amazing blooms we weren’t even imagining.

About the Author: Libby Wagner, author of The Influencing Option: The Art of Building a Profit Culture in Business, works with clients to help them create and sustain profit cultures.
Visit www.libbywagner.com.

This article appeared in
The Retail Observer, Vol. 28, Issue 6
and is reprinted with the permission of the author.

Reprinted from Floor Care & Central Vac Professional and SQE Professional, August 2017