Organic Farming Teaching Leading

I heard two amazing speakers at a spa/retreat placed called Rancho La Puerta outside Tecate in Mexico a few weeks back. And, I watched the way people listened to them.  And I want you to invite such riveted listening. My wife Jennifer (Granholm) was one. She talked — but mostly turned over great clods of intellectual soil — to see what was there, to let it all breathe. And she got all this conversation going – the richness of democracy, where people offer views, ask questions, compare, contrast, speculate . . . think.

Salvador rivets
Salvador’s passion captures listeners

The next morning, I took the organic breakfast hike and after an incredible breakfast, Salvador Tinajero, the head gardener walked us out to his perfect rows. He was more passionate about his garden than Jennifer had been about her “garden.” His passion was infectious to the thirty of us that surrounded him. He peeled off the shoots of spices and said, “What is this? Taste it?” He laughed. People chewed, and squinted as if to squeeze answers from their mental file drawer of tastes. He pulled up carrots: “Look at this! Beautiful.” There were of course peppers, too; some of which sent guests scrambling to the kitchen for water.

I took two things from these people:

1. Find and release your passion!  If you are passionate, people will get enthused. I came with zero interest in organic farming, but my jaw dropped, and I now want to eat (and grow things!) differently. Many people came to listen to Jen out of curiosity; I could hear the whispers, “go to a talk about politics on a week away from civilization? Are you nuts?” But her passion lit them up, and I’ll bet they’re watching the presidential race in a whole new way. So, how about you: What are you lighting people up about? As my mentor M.A used to say, “Muller, you can’t light a fire with a wet match.” Lesson number two:

2. Feed the soil.  Salvador caught my lazy brain when he said: “You don’t feed the plants. You feed the soil.”  He described in detail just how the soil was fed: the great bugs, the crop rotation, the compost, the way they irrigate.  Jen did the same thing. She didn’t force feed the participants her views.  She churned the soil. She gave it breath. She showed the roots.  We need to tend to the environment that produces the results; make it supple. So often, we’re in a hurry, but our “followers” (who sometimes are our bosses) are stressed, are arid.  We need to feed them: with enthusiasm, with new ideas, with curious questions that churn the soil about them.  How might you “feed the soil,” and trust that the plants will grow?

Get your hands in the soil and mud, and look to the skies as you

Lead with your best self!


  • ” How might you “feed the soil,” and trust that the plants will grow?” Here’s one simple idea that we might ask political candidates to ponder:

    Industrial agriculture, factory farming and deforestation has massively depleted soil of CO2 and shot it into the atmosphere. This is a greater cause of global warming than all the coal-fired power plants and automobiles combined. Yet government policies continue to promote industrial agriculture which makes our planet hotter while putting small farmers out of business despite their superior environmental record. What would you do as ____ to change course and promote regenerative farming and reforestation practices to put billions of tons of CO2 back into our soil?

  • Dear Mulhern sir
    Hope you remember me. i did attend a leadership class session of yours in the recent MDP course held at Goldman School of Public Policy Berkeley (july 2015).
    I’ve been a regular at your ELW mails. the kind of new insights on “leadership” that you bring to share with us is fabulous. you are a great observer pima facie.. kudos to you…keep it up..
    and my today’s take away is
    1. Find and release your passion- “you can’t light a fire with a wet match” –Great!!
    2. Feed the soil and not the plant…. nurture the environment… that will lead to bringing up better leaders, citizens… you can go on and on…
    Thanks a lot
    D Jaisankar
    Bhubaneshwar India

  • The “how to” part of leadership is critical. No one wants a captain who cannot steer the ship, or plot the course. Before a leader speaks they must have the “how to” part of what they are doing prepared. Both Jennifer and Salvador know how to do, what they do, and know how to explain that plan of action. I have seen many small movements end, because those organizing did not know what the people they gathered together could do to accomplish their goals.

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