10 September 2022 |

A better way to lead your team


Consumers focus on fruit, but producers should focus on soil.

If you are a founder or leader in an organization, it is your job to take care of the soil so your seeds can grow.

Let me explain…

My friend Chris Pineda leads a leadership cohort called Groundwork that teaches a “Rooted Framework” for leadership. 

They break the analogy down like this.

Soil: The people and the culture

Seeds: Ideas

Weeds: Conflict

Fruit: The product

As a leader, your job is to take care of your soil.

When you take care of your people and ensure the culture of the workplace is healthy, ideas can flourish. 

  • People feel safe and are comfortable presenting ideas
  • The team understands who to engage in healthy conflict
  • Leaders understand the values and motivation of their team
  • The team has the relationships and resources needed to be great

Even the best ideas can’t produce fruit when the culture is trash.

  • People are scared of being judged, so they don’t share ideas
  • Teams either avoid conflict or allow it to become toxic
  • Leaders are reactive instead of proactive
  • Teams are overwhelmed and work without purpose

Creating healthy soil on your teams requires that you are willing to see people deeply. As we get to know them and understand their fears and motivations, we can understand why they do what they do.

Everyone has a story and a reason they are the way they are.

If you don’t understand your team, you’ll become reactionary and judge them based only on the things they do. This is why most leaders fail to create change.

But seeing people deeply is hard. It requires us to let our guards down, get vulnerable, and realize we might be the problem.

What if you are unintentionally the source of conflict in your organization?

What if you are the reason people hate coming to work?

You can only solve problems if you can see them.

When we take the time to understand our team at a deeper level, we can provide the things needed for growth. 

I once worked with a leader of a large organization, let’s call her Anne. They had big goals and ambitious timelines.

Anne was struggling because one of her best employees was suddenly disengaged from her work. 

“I’m doing everything I can to ensure this is a good place for her. She was struggling with a few things, so I even took a bunch of work off of her plate to make sure she wasn’t overwhelmed,” Anne explained. “But now she is missing deadlines, and her work sucks. She was the rock in this organization. I don’t get it. I feel like she thinks she can do whatever we want because she’s been here for so long.”

“Have you asked her what’s going on?” I responded.

“No. Do you really think I should just ask her? Wouldn’t that be kind of weird?”

“How else can you be sure you are solving the right problem?”

We followed up a couple of weeks later, and Anne’s energy was completely different.

“Oh my, things are so much better.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well, this is kind of embarrassing, but she said that when I took all the work off her plate, it made her feel like I didn’t think she was capable of getting it done. It made her start wondering if this was the right place for her to work. I can’t believe it. I thought I was doing her a favor.”

I love this story with Anne because it’s a perfect example of what it means to work on the soil.

If Anne had only focused on the action, late and incomplete work, she would have missed the opportunity to understand the problem and come up with an effective solution.

Healthy soil is what your organization needs to allow ideas to flourish and come to life.

Coming up with innovative solutions is much easier when we take the time to really understand our employees and customers.

Your employees are not objects for you to use to achieve your goals. When we approach our work with this perspective, our team quickly feels it and the culture becomes toxic.

We create healthy cultures when we take the time to see people as people–who deal with tragedies outside of work, deal with insecurities, are still developing, and have incredible strengths.