Leadership Lessons from the Garden

The sweet smell of tomatoes on my fingers is the fragrance of summer. Indeed, I hear the invitation from my Indigenous brothers and sisters to honor the land. So, I begin at home, in my place. As the garden grows, I note the leadership lessons.

My reflections are intentional acts of decolonization. Considering my leadership amidst the ‘lens of the land’ rather than the ‘lens of the white man’ feels like a fruitful meditation.

The process of creating and cultivating takes time

I often want to rush. Quite likely, there is less rush than I perceive. How much of the rush is part of my Western mindset?

My garden teaches me the patience of ‘cultivating.’ ‘Cultivating’ is a favorite new addition in my lexicon. Weekly, on Saturday mornings, I lazily wander out and tour our garden, while the sun is still kind. I pick up the sides of the plants and find green tomatoes. Dozens and dozens of green tomatoes. I long to gather them and use them in my kitchen, but they whisper, “Not yet.”

Like most things worth having, the rush won’t help; the long, slow work of time is the answer. How many times have I ‘rushed’ in my leadership journey and it just didn’t help?

“You sure are tenacious”

Amidst garden boxes, heat waves, next to parked vehicles, and suffocated in a valley of forest fires, our tomatoes grew and grew. The obstacles for the plants to overcome were many! Mother earth seemed to groan under the weight of it and surely the humans did too.

Yet, look at the resilience. We can grow, thicken, bloom, and blossom amidst all sorts of conditions. In fact, the Canadian charity I founded, Niteo, to consider literacy equity both locally and globally, is based on this principle.

“Niteo” means to bloom, to blossom, to shine, and be bright! It is my wish for children all around the world.

The best fruit is deep inside

As the fruit began to ripen in the latter days of summer warmth, we harvested from deep in the center of the plant first. The best fruit was deep inside, hidden, and treasured.

As I walk through leadership lessons, again and again, I have to be certain of who I am and the values I hold deeply. I continue to feel the threats, the disappointments, and the criticisms of leadership. It is a treacherous time in education. Yet, I am more at ease in my own skin and know my worthiness. These are treasures I hide in my heart. The tomatoes remind me to ‘dig deep’ amidst the process, in order to bring my best self forward.

Thriving can happen in unexpected places

My zucchini plants grew over the edge of my garden box and into the crushed rocks below. The green vines and bright yellow flowers reached across the parking space. Remarkably, the fruit ripened while sitting on the grey stones, growing and growing.

Despite being in these unexpected places, we ate loads of zucchini this summer. We grilled it, sliced, and dipped it. We grated it into cakes and muffins. The green treat was snacked on, sautéed, and stir-fried. To say we had a bountiful harvest would understate it.

Even though the garden box could not contain the plants, they continued to thrive.

You see, the definitions of thriving, the locations, the expectations are all invented. I invent my own criteria for thriving and if I find myself in crushed, grey stones, I can still choose to thrive. Key word, “choice.” Flourishing can happen in unexpected places.


It wasn’t all perfect and some of it was downright messy. But, in the end, the fruit became food and fed us. This gift is worth celebrating. We bowed to give thanks to the Creator who sustains this annual season. Our gratitude is woven into the laughter and togetherness we share at our meal. The flavors remind us of Earth’s goodness. It is a prayer.

And now, may our strength be an offering for the nourishment of all…



PS Your work is infinitely important. How can I serve?