When a gardener plants seeds, she intends to yield a harvest. These dry, hard, yellow kernels will give rise to tall green stalks laden with ears of fresh, delicious corn. If everything goes right.
There are many phases to the process – deciding to plant a garden, envisioning the outcome, learning everything you can about soil, compost, weather patterns, fertilizer, insects, and the elliptic of the sun. But no matter how much we learn and how hard we work, the most important part of the process is intention.
Intention is the potent act of out-picturing – allowing our vision to move from the realm of thought into the realm of manifestation. We don’t control the weather, the sun, the bugs, or the corn – we are only their witness and collaborator. All creation is co-creation.
The wisdom traditions of the world warn us of the perils of confusing intention with attachment. “Work without attachment to the fruits of work,” Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad Gita. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus counsels us in no uncertain terms to renounce all anxiety about the future. Worrying isn’t going to add one inch to your corn. And Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching put it this way: “Rushing into action you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them. Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.” You can’t make the corn grow faster by yelling at it, tugging on it, or nervously pacing up and down the rows.
Our job is not to grow the corn. Our job is to co-create the conditions in which the corn can grow itself. Corn already knows far more about how to become corn than we do.
Whether we are growing corn, raising children, or building a career, the same principles apply. All we can do is set intentions, hold aspirations, and envision fruition. But the minute you slip into the seductive delusion that you are in control, chaos reigns and the only crop you’ll yield is suffering for all involved.
Many of us have worked for micromanagers, bosses who hover over you directing your every move. Under these meddlesome taskmasters workers lose their two most potent qualities – innate enthusiasm and creative problem solving skills. Nothing quashes the enthusiasm and creativity of a work team faster than micromanagement. Instead, hire great people, create the conditions in which they can thrive, and get out of the way.
Under micromanagement, employees stop trying and stop caring because they’ve received the message loud and clear: their essence isn’t valued or even necessary. They’re seen not as human beings but as extensions of the boss, robotic appendages without heart or vision. When you’re dehumanized, your soul lives in exile. The only reason you show up now is for the paycheck. Is that what anyone wanted?
As a leader you have two principle tasks – articulate the group’s intention, and manage the structural processes so that your employees don’t have to. As a leader, your only question to your employees should be, “What can I do to support you today?”
A leader is a planter of seeds. Taking leadership in your own life is a matter of humbly but boldly setting intentions, then letting go. As Lao Tzu wrote, "If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself."
[This piece was originally published in my column "A to Zen" in the July/August 2018 edition of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]