7 Powerful Leadership Lessons Inspired by a Garden

B004 - 7 Leadership Lessons from a Garden

May 1, 2024

Leadership Lessons Inspired by a Garden

It's 2012, and I land in South Africa, full of the usual Aussie optimism, fresh from the shores of Sydney and eager for a change of pace.

Little did I realise I was stepping into what would become one of the toughest years yet. 

Taking on the role of regional manager for sub-Saharan Africa, I found myself in uncharted territory, with no direct colleagues or team on the continent. Suddenly, I was wearing multiple hats - manager, consultant, travel planner (I practically lived on planes), you name it. 

In the words of Bryce Courtenay, I was The Power of One.

Until then, I'd spent over six years working across sub-Saharan Africa as a fly-in, fly-out behavioural safety leadership coach, consultant, and trainer. I've clocked up extensive experience in the region.

But let's be honest – Being an all-care, no-responsibility (not entirely accurate) consultant, jet-setting around the globe in business class, is a world away from diving headfirst into a fresh gig as a full-time regional manager. It's like stepping into a whole new ballgame, especially when it's essentially starting from scratch in a brand-new country.

As the first year unfolded, I found myself struggling emotionally, reaching a point where I experienced a complete mental and physical shutdown for a brief period in August of that year.

Looking back, I realised I was still finding my feet, unsure of what it would take to succeed or who to turn to for support. That old mindset of, 'Well, they've put me in this position, so I'll just have to figure it out on my own' – utter nonsense!

But with my commitment to the role and someone else occupying my home in Sydney, there was no turning back. I had to roll up my sleeves and get on with it, no matter what.

I dug deep into my reserves, deeper than I ever thought possible.

Once I brought someone on board, life began to change, as it tends to do. It was a significant lesson for me: don't wait until things are crumbling before seeking assistance and expanding your team.

On a personal note, I also realised that my lovely temporary apartment by the riverfront wasn't quite the right fit for me. 

During a meeting with one of my contractors at Tasha's, a charming coffee shop boasting delightful cuisine and a wonderful atmosphere, it dawned on me that I needed to relocate closer to Johannesburg and immerse myself once more in the vibrant rhythm of city life.

But what else did I want?

I really wanted a small garden as well as a home: a space to nurture and be nurtured.

I found that fabulous house in the suburbs with the perfect garden – yes, a little unwieldy and a little out of control, but with the potential to be that lovely nurturing space. And so I took it.

Then followed the pure joy of cutting grass—it was all about being present. Coupled with a gin and tonic, it was divine.

Gradually, I immersed myself in nature. I basked in the sunlight, tended to the weeds, trimmed the edges on my hands and knees, rearranged plants, and fine-tuned every detail to create the perfect little haven.

Birds soon flocked to the garden, prompting me to set up some feeders. As I began inviting friends over to share in the tranquillity, it evolved into a sanctuary for me and all the life flourishing around me.

Over the following 15 months, the garden and I melded into one.

During this time, I couldn't help but notice the many lessons I was absorbing as a leader while pottering about in my garden and savouring life's simple pleasures.

Sometimes, I'd only spend a few minutes there, other times, a few hours, but I made a point of showing up regularly – plucking a weed here, trimming a shrub there – always nurturing, adapting, and tending to the greenery.

And upon reflection?

Here are my 7 Leadership Lessons gleaned from the garden:
[The paramount lesson being consistency and embodying the change you wish to instil]

B004_Leadership Lessons Image
1- Consistently dedicating time each day truly makes a difference

It needn't be a grand affair (like a performance review), but investing a few minutes daily with your team lays the groundwork for success.

2- Some days, you may only make small strides.

Be strategic about where you maintain that consistency. The better you understand your team's strengths, the more effectively you can nurture and cultivate a healthy environment for all.

3- Embrace and celebrate those little victories and relish the moments of triumph.

I recall days spent simply enjoying my garden. The excitement when the first bulbs sprouted was contagious, spreading through my team. Whether securing a new client or achieving a milestone, we'd break into a celebratory dance.

4- Foster a safe and supportive workspace for your team to thrive in.

Years ago, I stumbled upon a gem of a book called The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, which remains as pertinent today as ever. It's written as a narrative recounting a young man's journey of discovery about effective management. He encounters a manager who lives by the mantra, 'People who feel good about themselves produce good results'. Just a minute of your time could leave a lasting legacy of success.

5- Too often, we delay seeking assistance.

I sought guidance and support at the garden centre to cultivate my garden and create my sanctuary. Similarly, as leaders, we all require assistance to thrive. A leader should feel empowered to ask questions and seek help without hesitation.

6- Take action before your garden is overrun.

Have the courage to seek the support you need. Reach out to your peers, manager, or coach without delay.

7- Reap the rewards of your efforts.

From the moment you break ground, you realise that every action you take leaves a mark. Your dedication is repaid with blossoms, vegetables, or lush foliage. The same holds true for your work environment, regardless of your role.


~ A personal story & leadership lessons
by Karin Ovari ~

Karin's Note:

Back then, the garden served as a sanctuary for me—a place to find emotional stability.

Looking back, as my personal journey unfolded, so did the growth of my team at work. Life began to feel more manageable, which undoubtedly benefited the team.

The development of the garden and the team occurred hand in hand.

As for that challenging year, it marked the beginning of an ongoing learning journey that continues to this day, leading me here to share with you.

This is just one of the many life experiences that have sown the seeds for my direction in life and reinforced my passion for making workdays easier for people.

I'd love to hear about your own life lessons and their impact.

  • What valuable insights have you gained from your experiences?
  • How do they relate to leadership in the workplace?

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