June 4, 2024

6 Things My Strawberry Patch Taught Me About Leadership

by thebsbook in Uncategorized0 Comments

“Whoa, look how many there are!” exclaimed my son.

The little raised bed where we planted a few strawberry plants last year has gone crazy. When we moved the leaves aside, it was like a red carpet below them - a massive number of strawberries. 

As we picked berries and filled bowl after bowl, we also noticed that there were hundreds more blooms and baby berries on their way as well. These little plants produced so many pounds of fruit. We shared with our neighbors, froze some for later, and had that red stain on our lips from eating tons as is.

So, what made these little plants succeed so well? Why did they produce so much fruit?

In reflecting on this, I noticed that there are many overlaps with these prolific little plants and what a positive leadership culture is like.

Here are 6 things my strawberry patch taught me about leadership:

  1. Invest in things that might not have immediate payback. For much of the year, strawberry plants aren’t producing fruit. We don’t expect them to. However, we are continually investing in a good environment for them - soil, water and the like. If we add plants, we may carefully source them. We aren’t asking them to hit an ROI or NPV on a specific schedule. They don’t have status reports or attend meetings. While they are continually working and demonstrating progress, they aren’t an assembly line. Remember, your staff as humans aren’t an assembly line item either. And, the fruits that they produce may be seasonal (see #6), which is okay.

  2. Focus on quality. Often, I can get caught up on time to market, which is important. However, sometimes I can overdo that and forget about quality. Now, a good balance here is to continually improve the quality and have regular progressive releases. But the subtle difference here is on the quality increase - not just hitting a date. It also doesn’t excuse missing a timeline and getting stuck in the pursuit of the last 0.001% of perfection.

  3. Remove barriers proactively. While my strawberry plants are resilient, they did have some support. Without asking, and in anticipation of their success, I looked out for their success. When weeds and other plants snuck in, I removed them. I made sure the soil had nutrients they needed to succeed. When there was overgrowth, I quickly trimmed it so they could be successful in the little raised bed I had for them. As a leader, whenever I can remember to remove barriers, and especially those my team might not anticipate, I’m ensuring enduring growth.

  4. Leave It Alone. For the majority of the time, I just leave the patch alone. It knows how to grow, or will figure it out. It uses what’s around it to achieve. It doesn’t need my input. Sometimes as leaders we can become enamored with our skills and think we need to be involved with everything. We don’t. After you set your teams up for a win, give them the space to grow on their own. At times, while you are still accountable, this means that you leave them alone. You are ready to support and proactively look out for them, but you also give them the space to do their thing.

  5. Enjoy the harvest. Be ready to be blown away.A funny thing happens with strawberries - and teams - when we set them up for a win, build up their problem solving skills, and give them space - they produce epic results. When it comes time to harvest outcomes at work, you may be incredibly surprised at what they achieve. It may greatly exceed the original expectations or ideas. You may have more fun. You may need to find neighbors to share it with. And, because the success is so big, you may want to store it away, so you can replay it later. 

  6. Understand seasonality - people productive in waves. Strawberries produce only a few times a year. Yes, I’m aware there are all sorts of ways humans can force them to create fruit more often. Let’s not talk about the outliers for a second. In general, there’s a season for them to produce fruit. Lots goes into this and might not be as recognized as the berries. There’s a constant conversion of sunlight to energy, of soil to nutrients. The leadership lesson here is to make sure to acknowledge the fruit givers AND the many other components that lead to their success. You have a number of functions that don’t get the accolades, but absent of their efforts, your top performers wouldn’t be able to produce. Also remember that there can be a seasonality to their production. While it’s not annual, it may happen in a cycle and you may need to fine tune your best practices to support these natural cycles - instead of forcing a bloom every day.

While this analogy admitedly  has limits, it can give us a quick reminder on how to grow, serve and build-up our teams.

To your continued epic successes!




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