Lessons from the Farm: The Right Tool

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Today’s thought probably goes more naturally with the “Lessons from the Farm” series, but it crossed my mind last week and I thought I would share.

I don’t know your level of agricultural background, so I’ll get kind of basic right now. I’m guessing you know what a tractor is. One of the things (of many) that gets pulled behind a tractor is called a plow. There are different types of plows, but they all have one thing in common–their job is to break the soil.

In order to break, or till, the soil, you will sometimes use a different type of tool to actually go into the ground. These attachments are mounting onto a shank. There were three different main types that we used growing up–a chisel, a sweep, and a duck bill.

One of the most dreaded days for me as a hardly working 11 year old was when my dad would inform us (usually my brother and I), that it was time to put {chisels/duck bills/sweeps} on the plow. This was a tedious task that involved sitting exposed to the sun, scooting around for an hour or two, and likely getting a pretty nasty gash on your finger.

But the principle was simple: the tool on the shank wasn’t the correct tool for the job at hand.

Sweeps killed weeds, chisels didn’t.

Chisels dug down into the earth turning the soil over, sweeps didn’t.

Different tools, different tasks.

The same is true in leadership. There is no one size fits all answer to our leadership approaches. There are constants (tractors and plows), but the specifics vary based on the situation and the need at the moment.

We should always be moving forward (there’s no plow we ever used that worked in reverse), but the specifics we use to move forward must be adaptable. Your group dynamics can change in a few months, so be willing to adjust.

Maybe your approach to leadership (if you have an approach) is working great right now. Great! But be ready for a shift in the near future, probably sooner than you realize.

Maybe you don’t have an approach. Put the plow in the ground and move forward. I see too many people try to make leadership development something requiring a PhD. It’s not. It’s creating awareness, providing opportunity, and collaborative evaluation.

At the end of the day, we never changed from chisels to sweeps and parked the tractor. We moved with purpose and for a reason. Do the same.

Not sure where to start when developing student leaders? Here are three questions I’ve started teaching students leaders in an attempt to help them take steps. You can also subscribe to get posts like these in your inbox every week.

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