leadership incorporated blog

June 10, 2012

What Every CEO Should Learn From Dave’s Excellent Tomatoes

Have you ever had a tomato that was so far beyond anything you’d ever tasted, it changed your life?

A year ago, my husband and I were invited to dinner at a friend’s house. Dave served vegetables from his garden that looked more or less like tomatoes and arugula and zucchini. But they didn’t feel, smell or taste like anything I’d ever experienced. They awakened my body’s awareness of and hunger for quality taste and nutrition. They opened a door that showed me that something was possible that I didn’t even know existed.

We decided to grow our own tomatoes. We bought special soil at Home Depot and selected baby heirloom tomato plants from the nursery. We knew enough to keep them watered and use stakes to keep them off the ground. The day our first rosy tangerine tomato ripened, our mouths watered in anticipation. I held it up to breathe in the aroma, and…nothing. And the flavor: weak, watery, slightly bitter. Blah. All that work for nothing.

What did Dave know that we didn’t? Well, it turns out Dave spends 6 hours every Saturday in master gardening class. He works in his garden several hours a day. He knew A LOT we didn’t. Not just about varieties and soil but also gardening practices, the environment and adapting to changing conditions. He knew that excellence takes a commitment to continuous development.

So it turns out that an excellent tomato is not just about the starter plant and soil, it’s about the gardener. Dave had to grow himself before he could grow those amazing vegetables.

My lack of knowledge, skill, habit, attention, commitment, perspective, and mindset will keep me from ever producing tomatoes at the level that I experienced at Dave’s table. I’m simply not willing to do the work.

However, I am willing to pay for the experience…at a premium…on a regular basis.

Isn’t this what we leaders need to create through our businesses?

By developing ourselves and our people well beyond the norm we become able to create an increasingly excellent experience for our clients. An experience for which they may not be willing to invest the time to become experts themselves, but are willing to invest the money to have excellent results.

If it takes continuous development to produce excellence in something as simple as a tomato, it certainly takes continuous development for something as complex as a business.

Continuous development is the secret sauce of excellent products and services. Leaders of businesses that are committed to excellence and growth need to recognize that the foundation needed at the next level is fundamentally different than the foundation at our current level of production.

Just like Dave, we need to continuously work on developing excellence.

So although excellent tomatoes aren’t enough of a priority for me to make this kind of investment, excellence in my business is. I have worked with three coaches over the past 7 years. I carefully select and regularly attend classes and put the learning into practice immediately to stay at the top of my field. I seek out people whose work I admire as models and counsel for my business. I’m willing to do whatever personal work is necessary to let go of habits and mindsets that could limit my ability to provide my clients with a transformative experience.

How about you? Do you have a vision of excellence that is worth this kind of effort. If so, you need to grow yourself and your people first.

Point A people won’t take you to point B without support and development.

Is it ok to stay at point A? Sure. You can always find someone who will be willing to do the development you’re not willing to do…and charge you a premium.

I encourage you to become that someone who is willing to invest what it takes to become the master gardener in your field. Not investing in development is actually a commitment to the path of future obsolescence and will cost you the success and satisfaction that comes from providing your clientele with a transformative tomato.

April 23, 2011

Is this why our business and civic leadership is weak?

Just back from a wild 2-week, 11-school, 4 state college tour with my 17-year old son.

We spent between 4-8 hours per university in presentations, tours, classroom experiences, and so on. This is the time for the schools to put their best face forward, to present what they stand for and what they are committed to.

Are you as surprised as I was that only one of the schools we visited spoke of the responsibility to create people who could play a meaningful leadership role in the world?

(It was Whitman College in Walla Walla Washington). Only two (Whitman and Hampshire) drew direct connections between the experience they were offering and what students would do with that experience in the world upon graduation.

This made me curious, so I took myself on a virtual tour of the mission statements of some of the top universities in the country.

Of the 8 Ivies, half don’t mention leadership in their mission. Only three have it as a core value (Harvard is not one of the three!)

Of 11 liberal arts colleges we looked at, only 4 mention leadership literally or semantically and only 2 have it as a focus.

Many of the schools are blatantly proud as they speak of the “bubble” they create that insulates their students from the world.

So here’s what I’m wondering:

Is the absence of leadership as a core value in our most respected universities and colleges the reason that leadership in this country and the world are so wanting?

Should universities and colleges be responsible for teaching, cultivating, coaching leadership?

If not our universities and colleges, then who? Where should we as a people develop the skills, tools and perspectives that will result in the leadership we so desperately need? Who should invest in developing future leaders?

What do you think?

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