Are you a gardener?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Eugene Kampe
  • 71st Medical Group Superintendent
Are you a gardener? Seems like a strange question to ask. But in reality, gardening and leadership have a lot in common. As we explore this concept, I will share some true stories with you.

One of the first things a gardener does is prepare the soil before planting. This sets the stage for successful growth. Next, seeds are planted into the soil. The job doesn't stop there - the hardest part is still ahead. Once the seeds begin to sprout and grow, careful attention must be paid to the crop or it could wither away and not produce the desired results.

I remember a time in 1978 when I was an Airman Basic at my first duty station, and I wanted to go home on leave. I had never been on leave, and I asked my supervisor for permission. He told me to fill out a leave slip and go. I will never forget that day or the series of events afterward for I did exactly what he told me to do - I filled out that leave slip and left town. I returned to find I was classified as Absent Without Leave. I couldn't grasp the concept, because I did as I was told.

My supervisor failed to properly prepare me on the basic mechanics of taking leave and the correct steps to follow. That simple lack of preparation on his part and the unpleasant counseling sessions that followed could have caused me to wither away and become an unproductive Airman.

Next, a leader must prepare the working environment around them. It must be an environment that promotes team work communication, and trust.

Leaders do not happen overnight. Someone early on had to plant "the seeds of success" through mentoring and leadership by example. To grow subordinates, a leader must also provide meaningful feedback and insightful guidance.

Throughout my almost 30 years in the military, I had many good leaders. The best of them always told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. Most messages were positive, others were not. Even when corrected, it was done in a way that preserved dignity. When a message is not positive, the influential leader knows how to convey the meaning in a way that creates growth. Negative feedback does not have to be ugly, just truthful.

To avoid failure, a leader, like the gardener, must be alert for any negative trends or indicators in their environment and act swiftly when problems arise. To do less is unthinkable.

In my career, I have held five separate Air Force Specialties and one was that of first sergeant. Every supervisor wears a diamond on his or her sleeve when it comes to correcting problems. Small problems when ignored grow into big problems. If you ignore correcting a person who needs a haircut, comes in late or any number of infractions, the Air Force standard is lowered. The new expectation becomes - "it's OK to be this way, because no one said anything." It is up to everyone in a supervisory position to keep and maintain high standards.

There were times when supervisors would come to me to say they had a problem Airman. Not in every case but I believe that if you show me a bad Airman, often times it can be linked back to poor supervision.

I had one supervisor who wanted the commander to impose Article 15 punishment because the Airman he supervised didn't show up to work on time. Investigation revealed that the supervisor made a habit of stopping for "designer" coffee on the way to work and actually came to work late more times than the Airman. If we do not maintain high standards, rest assured, those that follow will not either.

Leadership is a never ending process requiring a lot of work. A leader's job in essence is to grow other leaders who will go forth and grow other leaders. Take a look around to see what you've grown lately. What kind of a gardener are you?