FOR generations, gardeners have been following an age-old set of principles called “the law of reaping and sowing”. These truths are ingrained in the way they think and act because they know the lessons they teach are essential to their success.

I want the people who develop leaders in organisations to follow the same mantra because they go to the root cause of the success or failure of leader development in any industry. They contain lessons that have been learnt the hard way so you don’t have to.

The five keys of the law of reaping and sowing are:


•  You reap what you sow: You won’t get bananas if you plant wheat, no matter how hard you wish for them. You won’t get leaders if you only teach the skills of managing, no matter how much you try. You also won’t create a leadership team if you only develop the skills of individual leaders.


•  You can’t reap a healthy crop from poor seed: If you buy low-quality seed, you will see the results in your crop. You need to choose the best ones, not the cheapest ones. You must recruit quality staff and pay them well as they will be your frontline leaders of the future. The best development programme in the world cannot make up for selecting the wrong people to be developed.


•  Sow your seeds in good soil to increase your yield: Sowing is an investment, so be careful to have the right soil or your crop will give you a poor yield. If your soil is not up to standard, fix it before planting any more seeds that will go to waste.

You must have a healthy culture to plant your leaders in, one that respects their role and allows them to succeed. If your culture is not healthy, work on fixing it before developing new leaders.


•  Not everything you sow will be reaped: Some seeds won’t survive to maturity and this is normal, so you need to sow more than you need. Others will need culling along the way to give the strongest plants a chance to grow.

Not everyone you develop as a leader will succeed, so you need to prepare more than you need to make up for those that won’t make it. As they move up the organisation, there will only be room for a limited number, so you need to learn how to tell productive performers from average performers.


•  You reap in a different season than you sow: Winter wheat crops need to be sown in autumn, so you need to work ahead of schedule. This can be frustrating when you don’t see instant results for your effort.


Don’t expect instant results from your development programmes either. Don’t measure success only by short-term changes; think long-term. Don’t wait until you have a lack of leaders to develop new ones.

Think ahead five to 10 years, knowing you will reap the reward then for effort now. Developing effective leaders is a long-term investment in the future of your organisation, not a short-term activity that must show a return in the next month’s financial statements.

When you look at the way your organisation develops its leaders, can you see how following these natural laws can help you to generate a better outcome? Are you beginning to realise the reason you are struggling to attract and retain leaders is also contained in these five laws?

If you want to create an organisation that will thrive in the future, you need to start following the laws of reaping and sowing. Make a start today by choosing just one law and applying it. You may be surprised how quickly it yields results.


Article by Karen Schmidt, an award-winning speaker, workshop leader and facilitator with Training Edge International. She is a frontline leadership expert and describes herself as a workplace gardener who is on a mission to use her workplace gardening philosophy to help grow frontline managers into frontline leaders. For more information, e-mail or visit