President's Corner

Weeds in the Garden


As spring approaches, I find myself thinking about the vegetable gardens that have been part of my life since I was a young child.

I was first introduced to gardens by my father, who instilled in me his gardening philosophy. My interest and involvement fluctuated with my age, my obligations and, at times, my level of motivation. However, I quickly learned there’s much more to gardening than merely picking the harvest.

I’m not sure whether gas-powered tillers were around in those days, but if they were, we certainly didn’t have one. We turned the soil the old-fashioned way, one shovelful at a time. The zest with which I turned those first few shovels quickly turned to boredom and should have been an early warning sign that repetitive tasks were not my forte.

Mark BielangMark T. Bielang

However, through my father’s persistence and insistence, the soil was readied and the seeds planted at just their proper depth in carefully spaced rows. Then the waiting began. Patience is not one of my strong points, either. My daily visits to the garden in hopes of seeing the fruits of our labor breaking through the earth usually left me disappointed.

Finally, those little seeds would burst through and begin their transformation toward maturity. With new growth came more challenges — the weeds, the bugs and other invaders. We battled back with our bare hands, our garden hoes, and various powders and pesticides.

Then, after all that tending, we still had to wait until Mother Earth, driven by her own internal clock, provided the harvest.

Gardens can be great metaphors for life and work and can provide us with new ways of thinking about our organizations, programs, projects and the people we encounter. Using the garden to think about our role as leaders allows us to reflect on what we do.

For example, we may have difficulty with the “weeds” in our organizations. Those weeds might be new technology, overbearing employees or new board members. We may view them as invasive and try to contain their encroachment. The desire to protect our garden may cause us to be overly controlling of our school systems.

In the prologue to her book The Invisible Garden, Dorothy Sucher confirms there is far more to gardens and gardening than meets the eye. “When we garden, whether we realize it or not,” she says, “we bring to bear our previous life experiences, our memories of childhood and travel, our family relations, our reading, our dreams and aspirations, our moral standards and character flaws, our sensuality and grandiosity and spirituality. All of these are part of the invisible garden.”

Perhaps, given the complexities of our society and workplaces, we need to allow for some weeds.

As we enter this season of new growth, let us think of ourselves as gardeners. We plant seeds when we provide exciting experiences that may bear fruit for years after we’re gone. Not only do we plant the seeds, but sometimes we water the seeds planted by others. Sometimes we weed, sometimes we mulch. As leaders, we have faith that others will add to our efforts, watering, weeding and tending to the seeds we plant.

During these final months of this school year, let us not become overwhelmed by the weeds in our gardens. Leadership, like gardening, is a love affair with hope. It leads us to the place where we not only see weeds, but we experience joy in nurturing the seeds we have sown.

Mark Bielang is AASA president for 2009-10. E-mail: