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Have you noticed all of the tall grass and weeds since the rains have hit? It seems like every time I turn around, I am having to mow my yard. Through the years, I have really enjoyed yard work, however, I have always detested pulling weeds. My experience with pulling weeds comes from years of weeding my garden. When I began gardening, I learned quickly if you don’t keep your garden “weeded,” the weeds will choke out your plants. The more it rains, the more the weeds grow. If the weeds continue to grow, they will take over and prevent the good plants from growing and producing a harvest. 

Developing people is very much like weeding, managing, and growing a garden. Plants have to be weeded, watered, fertilized, and pruned to produce the best harvest. People are no different. At any business or company, your best asset is your people. They deserve the same guidance and care as plants in order to grow to their potential. So, how do we develop and nurture our employees to their potential?

Part of the development of people is to empower them to step out on their own with projects and tasks and give them the freedom to succeed or fail. In times of failure, you give them special care and attention, and provide constructive feedback, just like keeping the plants weeded and watered. Similar to weeds taking over a garden, sometimes employees feel choked out by all of the demands that are placed on them. A good leader will recognize the weariness of their employees and come to the rescue with a word of encouragement or listening ear.

Has anyone ever told you to get out of the “weeds?” As an administrator, I occasionally find myself “in the weeds.” This means jumping in to take care of responsibilities that should be accomplished by others. Long ago, a wise old soul taught me in order to be a good administrator, you have to know when to delegate and get out of the way. You can’t delegate effectively if you are “in the weeds” trying to take care of other’s responsibilities simply because you think you can do them more efficiently or quicker. This leads to fatigue and burnout of the administrator, and the employee is robbed of the opportunity or experience of taking on a new task. Just like plants, after they have been in the ground for a while, you have to give them a shot of fertilizer to help boost their growth. Employees have to be empowered to go it alone in order to learn how to succeed, as well as make mistakes. Through failure comes success. They deserve special attention and feedback of great performance and quality work, as well as constructive feedback in how to improve.

Although it can be much easier to do a job yourself because you know you will complete the task in the time and manner which you choose, this takes valuable time and deprives the employee from the opportunity to learn and grow. Developing people takes time and patience, as well as modeling the expected behavior.  

When the weeds surround the good plants, you can’t see clearly. Weeds have to be hoed or pulled one by one in order to find the prize squash, cucumber, or tomato. Just like weeding the garden daily, some employees need daily praise and feedback. Others only need an occasional nod of approval or affirmation. What I have come to realize is that leadership is about empowering others to take the hoe or shovel, get out of their way, and let them learn to weed on their own. 

When the rains come and the weeds begin to grow and choke out the plants, the gardener gets weary. This is the time to put on your gloves, grab a hoe, and work alongside the gardener to get the weeds out. The end result will not only be a vibrant red tomato or yellow squash, but also new-found skills and tools to weed, as well as a newfound confidence in the growth that has come from tenderly caring and maintaining a garden that produces. As a leader you want to empower people, teach them skills, and give them every opportunity for success. 

Moral of the story ... “Hoe alongside the gardener long enough to teach the art of weeding and then get out of the weeds. Your harvest will yield many times over.”

Dr. Pam Boehm is president of Hill College.

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