The Pumpkin Patch and the Self Appointed Leader

The Pumpkin Patch and the Self Appointed Leader
October 18, 2010 Derek Fournier

When a project has no plan or well defined leadership structure, the chaos will try to organize itself. This will happen normally through the assumption of leadership by an individual (or individuals). In the case of our Pumpkin Patch, a regular and well known member of the church who had apparently already had a frustrating day of organizing some other aspect of the Fall Festival had seen just about enough of the inefficiency and decided to start barking about it.

Problem 1: If you have an already frustrated workforce floundering due to lack of a plan (tactics) and clear goals (strategy) they will not respond to confrontation.

Corollary 1: If you are trying to lead an uprising, you get far further with bridge building than bridge demolition.

A well intentioned albeit already frustrated participant decided to start barking at the bucket brigade.

“You’re too far apart! You gotta get closer! This thing won’t work if you don’t tighten this up!”

Now if you move past the fact that there were not enough members of the bucket brigade to squeeze together to the distance he was demanding and ignore the rudeness of the approach, this was still an ill fated attempt and impromptu leadership. Funny enough, the group (including the actual appointed leaders) were ready to be redirected. This full frontal assault both in delivery and approach were a total and epic failure which led to his eventually leaving in a fit of frustration. Now before you get annoyed that I am attacking this gentleman, realize that I appreciated what he was trying to do. He saw a problem and tried to address it. Sadly, his approach and methods in the form of communication and tactics both stunk. When you are stepping up as a leader (meaning that you are not ordained as one) you must win people over with your approach and your ideas. This is why communication is so critical.

After his departure and after seeing that the group clearly wanted some direction, I decided to open my mouth. The bucket brigade had stretched down and around a tree and looped back to a pallet along a fence line. Now while reallocating the pallets at this point would have required too much of a revolutionary intervention, pointing out that we were carrying the pumpkins an extra 80 feet for no reason made sense to people. I split the brigade into two parallel lines that flared to different pallets and extended a second supply line into the truck to double our offload rate.

These ideas were not strokes of genius. They were mild alterations that I was able to implement by appealing to the desire of the group to do better and by collaborating with them. They saw me as a peer as I had been working rather than barking. Once I had proven my willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done, I was able to use that collateral to make mild and medium size tactical changes. These changes led to a significant improvement in our speed and efficiency.

In projects and in teams, the dynamic of the leadership role is seemingly lost to black magic. Leaders are not ordained or promoted. Leaders exist. People exhibit leadership. The mark of leadership is the amount of following that happens. If you are successful at leading you can do amazing things and sometimes, despite what seem to be overwhelming advantages to other models, an energized workforce will beat a technical solution with no support which I found out very clearly when I learned the lesson of the tractor at the pumpkin patch.

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