The Gardener as Leader

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


I will never forget Dr. Parisi. He taught me personnel management at DePaul University where I did my undergraduate degree. Dr. Parisi was a businessman. He always taught wearing a three-piece suit. At the end of each class he would pronounce in full self-importance and condescension, “I have given you enough of my time.”

One of the things Dr. Parisi would remind us of is that management is not about changing people. Instead, we can only create an environment in which people can be changed. Focus on the environment, not the person. This wisdom is helpful when we are expending a large amount of energy but are not getting the results we desire. It helps to know that all things are not in our control, especially when it comes to human behavior.

One of my Lenten books is Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that win wars, cure diseases, and Transform industries. The author, Safi Bahcall, challenges leaders to balance new and creative ideas along with traditional and successful ways an organization has of doing things. Bahcall’s book challenges us to change our attitude regarding how we understand leadership.

In one chapter, Bahcall writes about leaders who are more like Moses. These are leaders who determine what is approved and what is denied. These leaders are less dependent on a process or on others but make the decisions by themselves. The Moses leader is more likely to fall into a trap of saying no to new and creative ways, or saying yes to those things which they like, without using a criterion or having a rationale. Bahcall refers to Robert Dale’s book, Leadership for a Changing Church. Dale writes, “Leaders now make sense rather than make [decisions]. More accurately, they make meaning.” Dale is shifting away from the builder model of leadership to the gardener model.

The leader as gardener knows how to work with the soil, measure the rain, and determine what to plant and when. The leader as gardener realizes they cannot make things grow, but they can create the environment where growth can take place. What are you planting in your church, hospital, or school? How are you tilling the soil so things can grow and be nurtured? What is happening in your environment that is detrimental to the life you want to grow, and what are you doing about it?

Dr. Parisi may have been arrogant and distant, but his classes were popular! DePaul even has a scholarship in his name. I believe he helped us to understand a leadership style that would be with us in our careers for decades to come.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

One Response to “The Gardener as Leader”

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)