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.

December 11, 2011

Go Like a Puppy

A high school freshman I know is failing two of his classes. The level of work that he used to get away with in middle school is no longer working. In the past, he could slide on the directions and still get a decent grade. That work is no longer acceptable at the high school level. 9th grade is a different animal than middle school. New skills and levels of detail are required — as are new levels of relationship and responsibility.

This student sees his new situation as a loss. He sees himself in a hostile environment, a no-win situation.

Sound familiar? For the last several years the business world has largely been in a mindset of loss. The rules have changed here, too. You might say that we’ve moved from a more forgiving “middle school experience” into a tougher “high school” environment. We’ve been plucked out of our safe spaces and thrust into unfamiliar territory in which we are no longer sure what’s expected. The stakes are higher, the consequences tougher. More is being asked.

And, like my student, many business leaders are still committed to seeing their situation from a perspective of loss: of clients, income, resources, people, security.

But what if we didn’t see it as a loss?

What if we saw this as an opportunity for personal and professional and organizational development? It’s more obvious in the student’s case, but in all situations, challenging change is an invitation. To be different. To expand. To see things from new perspectives. To ask more of ourselves. To grow. To seize different opportunities. To build new relationships. To drop outdated practices and replace them with new approaches that will support continued growth.

Of course, our losses are real and I don’t want to deny or diminish them. But, the loss is not the point. What we gained through the experience is the point. The point is where we are now and where we are going next.

What happens to us when we focus on the loss? We get stuck. Our attention remains backward-focused. We develop stories of ourselves and our environments that are no longer true. By focusing on what was, we miss what is.

And is it true that anything was actually lost? Could it be more true that whatever was, had its life and was only ever meant to last the time it did? What if what we see as lost was actually meant to give us the tools to face whatever is coming next?

Things come to go. Change is the way of life on planet earth. Resisting the change only gets in our way.

As my dear friend Lee said upon being diagnosed with one of the biggest challenging changes there is: terminal cancer, “I’m going into it like a puppy.”

By which she meant: with curiosity, openness and enthusiasm.

She was onto a profound truth that applies to every aspect of life, especially creating business. You can’t lose in moving forward if you follow these 5 simple steps:

1. Appreciate where you’ve been

2. Learn from it

3. Look for the opportunity ahead

4. Go like a puppy

5. Repeat

 

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