Leadership & Lettuce — Learning to Trust in and Lead for the Process of Growth and Change

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.” 
- Thich Naht Hahn

It’s true.

Blame does not make good fertilizer.

Blame doesn’t help anything or anyone to grow well.

The same is true of judgment. Judgment (in a dysfunctional way as opposed to discernment that helps to get to the heart of a matter) keeps people — friends, family, co-workers — in a state of contraction, defensiveness, fear, and subsequently more judgment. When pushed into a state such as this, we don’t relate, we don’t create, we don’t innovate — we retract, contract, and often fire back.

Like any other form of life, each and every human being needs fertile soil and nourishing conditions in which to flourish — personally, relationally, and professionally.

As leaders, I see our next great learning is to realize this more than superficially. We must learn — and it does take new learning — how to be with ourselves and others in a way that blames and judges less, attempts to analyze and explain (who they are rather than the issue at hand) less, and attempts to fix and correct less. What we need to learn is how to love, how to listen to, and how to trust that those in our lives, both personally and professionally, will grow more fruitfully if we do so.

So, how do we come to realize this, not just intellectually but experientially as well? By coming to understand and experience the process of growth and change.

Just what kind of process allows someone to grow and change into a more robust, bountiful, resilient, whole version of themselves? One that actually supports the becoming of that someone without trying to control, dominate, dictate, or direct how the growth happens and what the process of change requires or necessitates, as well as what the outcomes looks like — who and what this someone becomes.

This can sound and feel hard. Whether we are aware of it or not, most of us want to control more than we want to create the conditions for someone to flourish, especially ourselves. (This can be the most frightening.) If you look up antonyms for ‘control’, you find words like chaos, mismanagement, weakness, lawlessness, disorganization, and weakness, but there’s one word listed that is different — freedom. If we want someone, including ourselves to flourish, we must create the conditions for — till the soil — for the freedom to grow into the healthiest, most robust and resilient form one is meant to take. (One description of the origin of the word control is this: “early 14c., “to check, verify, regulate,” from Anglo-French contreroller “exert authority,”)”.

As leaders, we’ve been taught that we must use our authority to attempt to regulate people into begin better people and doing better work. In relationship, we’re taught that control is how we get what we want.

I’d like to offer a different take. As leaders, as lovers, as human beings, we can come to learn how to offer soil in which others can flourish. We can learn how to ‘create the container’ within which those we love and lead can indeed grow and change into more vibrant and alive human beings. Rather than control and regulation, consider a good strong garden plot with fertile soil, plenty of sunlight, adequate water, and a fertilizer that doesn’t dictate what part grows and what part dies. A fertilizer that trusts in the process of growth itself, and trusts that how someone must change in order to become a more resilient and flourishing version of themselves can only be known by this someone, dictated by the ‘seed’ that lies at the heart of this someone.

So as a leader, this takes trust in the process of growth and change itself, trust in our human capacity to change, trust in each person’s unique process of change and trust in what lies within them, and trust in your own capacity to lead this way. To find trust in this last piece — in your own capacity to lead this way — means you must first know this process of change and growth for yourself, for when it comes to learning how to lead other human beings, true learning must also be experiential. And in this learning we discover how humility, compassion, and trust can grow and transform us all into human beings who are more resilient, compassionate, strong, joyful, and trusting in this process of change and growth.

And here’s the big piece. At this point in time, in both business and in life, what is most needed is people who are creative and innovative, people who are resilient, people who are good team and community members.

This process of change and growth IS the creative process. It is the transformation process. And it is what will transform ourselves, those we lead, our companies, our families, our communities, and our culture(s) into more compassionate and loving containers for life itself to flourish.

This is how we change the current mythology of our culture — one of money and greed — to the flourishment (a new word!) of all of life, including life that isn’t valued because it cannot be monetized. When we separate the worth of life into that which can make us money and that which cannot, we do not honor ourselves, we do not honor others, and we do not honor this great Earth that is the soil of our becoming — the soil of all of life’s becoming.

If this analogy with lettuce and soil and Earth feels like a stretch, I understand. We have been so separated from the roots of our own humanity and from the Earth herself, that we can sometimes feel challenged to relate to things in this way.

What we are really talking about here is how we meet the ‘blank canvas’ of our own lives and how we live them. Life is inherently a process of growth, change, and becoming — inherently mysterious at its core. This is why I love the growth, seed, lettuce analogy. The seed is planted in the dark of the soil, and in a garden that gets good sunlight. We water it. We make sure to give the soil nutrients. And we trust the seed will sprout. We don’t know for sure, but on some level we trust in this life process. Can we give the same trust to the process of change within ourselves, within others, and within the evolution of humanity? If so, where do we need to revisit our connection to the soil, the sunlight, and the watering of our own humanity? Where do we need to return to our relationship to this beautiful planet we live on? To the communities we are a part of? To the relationships that sustain us?

As a leader, especially as a leader, your own flourishing is a must if you are to become the healthy, alive, joyful human being you were seeded to be. The flourishing of our species is a must if we are to evolve.

I invite you to flourish with me. We begin on June 14th.