Rotten Toe-Mah-Toes! Leadership Fail!

No tomatoes were injured in the writing of this blog - they died of natural causes!

I just came back from vacation! My wife and I kicked off our Year of Victory with a get-away to Nantucket Island. The last time we visited the Gray Lady was 11 years ago. Since, we’ve traveled to other hot spots and had wonderful experiences. But, on this last excursion, we concluded that Nantucket is our favorite place to breathe. And although we came back rejuvenated and full of life, our garden didn’t fair so well.

Gardens need to be maintained throughout their lifespan and even a little beyond. So, taking more than a week away from tending it resulted in, shall we say, quite a few deaths. We came back to a bush full of rotten tomatoes! They were rather disgusting. Some split and mildewed, others black, shriveled and covered in flies, I plucked them from viny limbs and made a pile on the ground; the chipmunks would eventually make short work of the fallen fruit. As my hand became covered in acidic rot, I thought about how this applied to leadership, even my leadership.

Shriveled and moldy, golden cherry tomatoes are visited by flies for a tasty eat. At one time, these fruit were perfectly edible and, if anything like their brethren, delicious. But carelessness resulted in lost potential!

As leaders, especially spiritual leaders, it’s our job to tend to the growth and maturity of others. Yes, we’re all responsible for our own progress - we can’t shovel that off as someone else's duty - but there are some who are given the sacred task of nurturing others. I’ve been dubbed one of the blessed to have this as my calling. But there’s a down side as well. In our leadership humanity, we fail and often hard, at the expense of us, the organization and especially those we're leading. As I groomed the tomato plant of its decrepit fruit, I was reminded of a principle in leadership.

In our nurturing of others, as they mature and evolve - we’re talking about multiplication here - there’s a point where, if they aren’t “picked”, they’ll rot or be cast off. I’ve seen this happen in many organizations and I’m sad to say that I’ve allowed it to happen, too. Lacking wisdom, many leaders are unable to tell when someone is ripe and ready to move to the next level. Two things happen to people who are left in positions or with responsibilities they’ve grown beyond.

As leaders, I believe we’re ultimately called to see that everyone is given the greatest opportunity to reach their God-given potential.

First, if they don’t have enough of their own ooomph, they’ll just rot. Lacking personal vision or passion, they’ll reach their situational potential and stagnate. Situation potential is the amount of growth and achievement attained in a given situation. Lacking opportunity or resources, forward progress ceases. They become entrenched and with that often territorial, bitter or worse - status quo! They don’t grow, aren’t challenged and just don’t reach their full potential. As leaders, I believe we’re ultimately called to see that everyone is given the greatest opportunity to reach their God-given potential. Now not everyone has as their destiny to lead thousands, so we also need to know when not to move someone on. But more than likely, failure to recognize potential is more the issue.

Second, they fall off. Either realizing they have more to give or understanding that they won’t have opportunity in their current organization, they leave. They move on. One of the downsides to this is that the community they leave suffers. This is an epidemic in both corporate and church cultures. There are probably multiple reasons why those above them don’t help them ripen - ego, pride, ignorance, arrogance, envy, lack of vision, the list goes on. Regardless of the reason, their leaders just won’t allow or assist them in advancing. This is a leadership fail, just like rotten tomatoes!

So, as I pruned the rotted fruit I was reminded to lead for the benefit and growth of others. To look carefully and judge rightly the readiness of my staff, taking extra care to help them fully ripen needs to be my top priority. I need to properly challenge them to grow, helping them to try new experiences and face new hurdles. That's why I'm called to be a leader. It's not about the bottom line, it's about not letting the fruit spoil on the vine! Take care of the fruit and the revenues will follow.

Here are a few things I try to keep in mind as I lead that help both the organization and the individuals in it.

  • Be willing to allow others to surpass you in leadership. This is a hard concept for many. It requires humility and setting ego to the side. I think of John the Baptizer when he said of Jesus, "He must increase and I must decrease."
  • Be open to style differences, don’t confuse style with content.
  • Be willing to create new positions, when feasible, to accommodate the growth and passions of others. Help others to spread their wings and fly!
  • Don’t compromise the organization’s Vision or Mission, but be willing to be creative as to how they’re accomplished.

Do you have any hot tips that you can share as part of your leadership culture? Send them along, we could all learn from each other!

It's not about the bottom line, it's about not letting the fruit spoil on the vine!

*Sometimes people truly do outgrow the organization they're in. This is a reality that has no one to blame. The organization isn't large enough or have enough resources so the person has to move on.