Organic Organizational Effectiveness

By Lisa Earle McLeod

Three leadership imperatives from The Biggest Little Farm

It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

If you’re old enough to remember this ad campaign, you’re probably also old enough to remember when people threw trash out the car window and kids could follow chemical trucks spraying for mosquitoes. For younger readers, this alternative universe was called the 1970s.

Flash forward to today, where the balance between ecosystem and commerce is a subject of fierce debate. But what if instead of trying to balance nature and commerce, we looked to Mother Nature as a model of organizational effectiveness.

My new favorite movie is “The Biggest Little Farm,” a feel good film that chronicles the eight-year quest of two idealists, Molly and John Chester, as they trade city living for 200 acres of barren farmland and a dream to harvest in harmony with nature.

I’m recommending this to my executive coaching clients because it’s a lesson in overcoming setbacks and the interconnectedness of everything. The Biggest Little Farm provides three big insights for leaders:

1.Verbalize your vision and share it often
Molly Chester’s vision to run a traditional foods farm was rooted in her training as a natural food chef. Her passion inspired (persuaded) her husband filmmaker John Chester to help find investors and purchase Apricot Lane Farms, an endeavor most of their friends thought was crazy. The film is an intimate look inside the lives of two young people who start out naively. Yet, as the film’s website says, “Through dogged perseverance and embracing the opportunity provided by nature’s conflicts, the Chesters unlock and uncover a bio-diverse design for living that exists far beyond their farm, its seasons and our wildest imagination.”

Without a vision, the Chesters would have been simply scratching away at the dirt trying to make ends meet. Molly’s vision kept them going and inspired others to join their cause. Verbalizing your dream often keeps it real.

2.Find good mentors and invite them to participate
After buying 200 acres of neglected land in Moon Park, Calif., the Chesters ask farming guru and bio-dynamic consultant Alan York to help them. York challenged them. Instead of planting one or two crops, as most farms do, York recommended diverse orchards with more than 75 types of fruit and cover crops to keep soil in place. During the course of a few years, their soil became richer, and when heavy rains hit, Apricot Farms didn’t lose mountains of dirt to runoff as other farmers did. When you find people who have studied your field, listen to them. You’ll save years of frustration.

3. Don’t cave on principles but get creative with resources instead
Watching pests destroy the Chesters’ hard-won progress is heartbreaking. During a snail invasion, John asks Molly, “I don’t suppose we can use chemicals?” She responds, “No, we’re not.” Lesser leaders would have called in a chemical truck.

Instead, the Chesters solve the problem by cross-training their animals – no joke. I don’t want to ruin the surprise but ducks are involved. It’s ecofriendly and it’s hilarious.

I never dreamed I’d cry over a farm movie but I did, and so did my big, strong husband who says, “I loved the transformation. Watching them turn something almost like a dust bowl into something so lush, beautiful and bountiful was stunning.”

Mother Nature shows us for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you kill off one thing, it’s going to impact something else. But if you’re willing to nurture and grow your dreams, they will affect everything and everyone around you.

About the author

Lisa Earle McLeod is a leading authority on sales leadership and the author of four provocative books including the bestseller, “Selling with Noble Purpose.” Companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales organizations.