A few months ago, after speaking at an event, I struck up a conversation with an audience member (and now good friend), Z. We reflected on our career trajectories and connected over our belief that today’s leaders required soft skills along with technical knowledge. He also shared with me his unique career growth theory: To be better leaders, people should aspire to be more like farmers.
Yep, farmers. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with him.
Here are five ways to approach your career as a farmer would:
1. Prepare the soil.
A farmer would never try to grow crops in an inhospitable place and puts in the work necessary to prepare nutrient-rich soil for growth.
You can’t grow your career—or the careers of those you lead—if you’re in an uninspiring, stagnant or hostile work environment. As leaders, we need to make a conscious effort to create a safe place for others to flourish. By modeling vulnerability, leading with empathy, actively listening and encouraging open communication, we’ll foster trust and collaboration. And to nourish our own careers, we need to adopt a growth mindset allowing our curiosity to fuel lifelong learning.
2. Intentionally plant seeds.
A farmer would never plant without a plan that includes a clear understanding of their desired outcomes.
In growing your career, having clarity on what you want is key to achieving it. Maintaining focus will help you do the things necessary to expand your experience and skill set. When you can articulate your goals, you’ll have an easier time aligning your attention and intention to plant the seeds for continued growth.
The same approach works for helping your team grow, too. When you ask what each member wants to achieve, you’ll better understand each of their goals and create a plan to accomplish them.
3. Once you’ve planted the seeds, let them grow.
Micromanaging doesn’t work with plants. When you hover, you’ll block their precious sunlight, and when you overwater them, they’ll droop and drown from the excess. Instead, give the seeds you’ve just planted a chance to grow.
People respond in much the same way. Once they’ve helped plant the seeds, leaders should avoid getting into the minutiae of every task. They can empower their people to make their own decisions—even if they differ from the ones the leader would make. Those leaders who step back yet offer their support and resources for also send a message of trust—and allow others to thrive.
It’s also important for leaders to practice self-compassion, and not push themselves to achieve their goals in impossible timelines. Remember that career growth happens steadily over time.
4. Remove any weeds.
Farmers know that they need to keep their fields free from weeds that threaten to invade and choke out their valuable crops.
When you’re managing a team, one toxic employee can quickly destroy the morale of the most productive team. If you’re a solopreneur, unreliable partners or even over-demanding, taxing clients can take their toll if left unchecked. And sometimes the “weeds” you face aren’t people, but outdating processes, services, or activities that drain your precious resources and prevent you from focusing on what truly matters. When you say no to the people and things that don’t support your goals, you make room for those that do. It’s up to you to proactively assess the fields of your career and take action, pulling the pesky weeds early and quickly.
5. Learn from previous harvests.
Farmers know that forecasts can be wrong and that sooner or later, disaster will strike. But when it does, they don’t give up. They use this knowledge to be better prepared.
Every leader makes mistakes, but the ones who view their so-called failures as learning opportunities thrive. The next time something doesn’t go as planned, set aside time to review where you went astray, what you learned, and what you can do differently in the future.
By thinking like a farmer, you’ll sow the seeds of leadership and reap a bountiful career harvest.