Our commitment to not mowing our lawn until the end of May has thrown us into a curious leadership conflict: we want to provide dandelions for wild bees whilst also trying to fit into our neighbourhood. We’ve found that our inner process and our actions in this context are remarkably similar to what happens in the workplace to the leaders we coach: leaders who must choose between leading with integrity and playing it safe.
The wild bees of the world are in trouble. In Europe, the population of wild bees has declined dramatically, due to habitat destruction, pesticide use, and disease.
No Mow May is an Irish initiative where householders commit to not mowing their lawn until the end of May. The hope is that this will allow wild flowers and flowering weeds to pop up and provide much needed pollen and nectar for bees. And the great side benefit is that it saves you an hour a week when you don’t have to cut front and back lawn. So far, so good.
Here at Choose Leadership HQ we decided that this is a great initiative to support our local fauna and flora to have a positive impact on our ecosystem.
But as soon as we committed ourselves, something interesting happened. Up popped the question:
What will the neighbours think?
The irony was not lost on us: two leadership coaches who work with individuals and teams around complexity and reactive behaviour worrying about what our neighbours might think of us.
What got triggered? Well, we have a belief that in our neighbourhood everyone is expected to mow their lawns so as to present a pleasing visual that won’t knock back local property prices nor offend anyone’s eyes.
Yikes. External validation is written all over this one. And we had thought we were self-actualised and self-authoring, guided by our own values, not those of others!
In any case, our belief was reinforced by spending a lovely Saturday contributing to the spring cleaning of our estate. Side by side, and chatting with our lovely neighbours, we picked up litter, edged the grass around communal areas, cut back branches, pulled weeds, and swept pathways.
Then we passed our driveway: picture dandelions, moss and dirt. What would the other neighbourhood cleaners think of us?
Over lunch, we strategized in jest how we could remain in the good graces of our fellow residents:
- Do we just cut the grass?
- Do we just denigrate them as anti-eco right wingers and ignore them for the next 5 weeks?
- Do we put up a sign, “BEE PROTECTION ZONE” to clarify that we aren’t lazy, but rather concerned about the environment?
We might have made fun of ourselves, but what really happened is that we worried about what others may think of us. Not just any others, but the community we want to belong to.
In other words, we were stuck in a reactive place which usually leads to retreating, resorting to projection or justification.
What has this to do with leading in complexity?
As a leader, you have to make choices.
Your purpose or your values may impel you towards choices you are afraid to make because you fear that others may think less of you or even dislike you.
Your choices may feel like choosing between integrity or safety.
And that is a mark of true leadership: making choices in line with what you believe even when the choice feels hard.
So what choice did we make?
In case you wonder, we settled for a compromise: we cleaned the driveway and trimmed the bushes, while letting the grass grow as Mother Nature intended.
We have had to accept that some people may wonder why “yer ones up in number 54” have a front yard that looks like a vacant lot.
We are also learning to sit with the uncomfortable idea that some people may think that we are philistines.
And just in case, we keep mentioning to everyone we meet, how the dandelions are good for the bees.