240. Expert Interview: Turning Weeders to Leaders
Cultivating and connecting a team of people is a lot like growing a garden, says landscape specialist Jeff McManus. Once the vegetable falls off the plant, it starts to rot. If it’s not attached and growing, it’s rotting. At Ole Miss, the people who care for the plants are showing the importance of cultivating each other. Today’s guest tells us how.
Jeff McManus, creator of Weeders to Leaders, is director of landscape services at the University of Mississippi, affectionately known as “Ole Miss.” Weeders to Leaders sprang from Jeff’s love of growing plants, but quickly came to be about growing the people that grow the plants. “I get to be involved with frontline blue collar men and women who are out there doing the hard work every day.” Participants in the program focus on developing leadership, attitude, dependability and commitment. “It’s about being that go-the-second-mile kind of person.”
Turning Weeders to Leaders
In many workplaces, drama is going on in the background, causing disruptive issues, to crop up like unwanted weeds in a garden. As director of the landscaping services department, Jeff summed up the situation. “Something’s got to change. This is crazy! I figured out that the first person that needed to change was me. I had to start being pro-active and start planting a positive culture that would grow and flourish, versus just letting a culture determine what it wanted to be. If you don’t intentionally plant good seed, everything else in the world will come up and grow, and that’s what I was letting happen.” So, like leaders in many settings, Jeff said, “Let’s try something different.”
Why Is This Important?
Often in organizations, individuals are busy focusing on their own duties, as they should, but with little understanding of the larger organization. Without intentional cultivation, they have a limited perspective and are suspicious of, or resistant to, any changes, viewing them as threats. A pro-active approach to team building, creating an organic whole, may be viewed, at least in part, in gardening and landscaping terms. The focus is on flourishing plants instead of unwanted growth. Unlike plants in a garden, of course, humans can bring creativity, cooperation and coordination when leadership is cultivating their gifts.
What Is the Key Lesson Learned Here?
The Weeders to Leaders program at Ole Miss is full of stories about staff members whose skills and talents have been identified, shared with the group, cultivated and developed. With support from leadership and team members, reluctant leaders have gained the confidence to step into leadership roles. Learning from the people who actually do the hands-on work, the innovative program developed a curriculum that has been recognized and licensed by the university and offered to other colleges, companies and institutions.
Connecting With Jeff McManus
LinkedIn: Jeff McManus
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