The Farm

This was first published in the NHRDN Journal. 2013

We meet after several years. We were in school together. We bump into each other. In some time, we are sipping coffee. Catching up on the lost years that have quietly slipped by. He tells me he is a farmer and quickly asks, “What do you do?”

I answer slowly. “Learning & development”. I pause. “A variety of programs for developing leaders, capability building, preparing the organisation for future challenges…” My voice trails.

He quips, “I live in a different world. Plants, livestock and land”

We sip our coffee. I notice, he sips it with a certain care. Savouring each sip. I speak gingerly. “I know you put it simply. There is a lot that must go into farming”.

“We begin with a piece of land”. His voice oozes confidence. “Decide what crops to grow when. Each crop has its own cycle”


I am all ears.

“I plough the field. I need to get it ready for the seeds to germinate. I can’t plant the right seed on an unprepared surface you see”.
“And then, there are choices to be made. The season. The land. The water. All will determine what I plant. I have suffered both with the wrong seed for the right land and the right seed at the wrong time, with my eye on what the merchant will give me”

The striking similarities in his work and mine perk my ear. I warm up. “That’s a big decision. But who tells a farmer what is the right thing to do for his land?” He places the coffee cup on the table, soaks in some air, and says quietly, “If the farmer doesn’t know his land and the seasons, he isn’t a true farmer.”

My mind runs back to office and to the leaders we deal with. The leaders and managers who are self aware and own their development are the ones who go a long distance.

I look at him for more. He continues.

“Mother Nature keeps it simple. But, you can’t just plant the seed and wait for Mother Nature to do the rest. You need to know when to water and how much water. Too much water can kill too! “

“So is the case with fertilizer. So is the case with pesticide. Just the right dose. At the right time. In the right sequence. And that is very different for different plants in different soil. Just because something works well with the rice crop, it doesn’t mean it will with millets. We need to find the right mix. In fact, every farmer needs to”

I smile. And say, “So, it’s a question of finding the blend? Right?”

He smiles. “Finding the right blend EVERY SINGLE TIME! A true farmer nurtures. He nurtures by walking the fields. He nurtures by talking to his crop. He nurtures by just doing the right thing and not over doing it”

“So how successful are you in growing your crops?” I ask.  He laughs. “I don’t grow the crops. The crops grow by themselves. I am just there”.
I realise “I am just there’ conceals as much as it reveals. Yet it sinks in clean. The elegance of his description makes me wonder how we miss the most obvious in the quest of the ‘New / Shiny / Fancy’!

“A good farmer is patient. To him, who sows the right seed in the right soil and does just that much to nurture and watch them grow, a good yield is a given”.

That night I stare into the skies. And his words keep coming back to my mind. “I don’t grow the crops. The crops grow by themselves. I am just there”.

I want to write that down and put it on my desk. Perhaps pass it on to our leaders and managers. Development is nature’s way of ensuring all is well. And oh yes, true development is a natural process.


Ground Up

The last week, saw me visiting dealers where our products are sold. The narrow-by lanes of a second tier city, in spaces that could be very mildly described as ‘small’ there was first class commerce and even better insights.

If there was one piece of advice that I keep parroting like a broken record to every new joinee who bumps into me, it is this : get to know the business. And that is very different from ‘get to know your job / get to know your goals etc. ( Just stating it again 🙂  )


Getting to know the business includes getting to know how our money is made, where the money is made, where we bleed, what our realities are in the field. All these look so different when you immerse yourself into the real situation and learn. There is a certain flow to the rhythm of life and work. For every work. To just getting to see it in person gives the much needed richness to the perspective. There is only so much that third party accounts, monthly reports and power point presentations can convey.

Even otherwise, even if you are not a new joinee, even if you know the business like the back of your hand, it is ever so important to get out of the comfort of the corporate office and get to market or the place of impact that you want your plans to work in. Especially so, if you are in any of the people related areas.

Conversations on the ground bring to light new realities, aspects that were not thought of, or nuances that can only be seen on the ground, change the nature of the game and introduce levers, that when used can completely amplify efforts seamlessly.

The other big reason, is the building of relationships with people who will finally run with the ball. For at any point in time, the individual ideas and insights that the frontline will have is higher than what emerges from a powerpoint deck. Knowing a set of frontline folks who you can get ideas from (and who you can run your ideas by) gives a tremendous addition to your firepower as a leader.

Ofcourse, such visits come at a cost. Time and phsyical effort will be at the forefront. But then, there can be no better an investment into the effectiveness of plans that you are making as a leader.

Here perhaps are five things to do, when you go to the field.
a. Go curious. Always be clear that it’s good to ask a few more questions and risk appearing silly. In any case the field knows better about the field. Usually!

b. Field travel requires energy. Go adequately prepared and pack as much as possible into the day.

c. Trust the people on the field to make the final choices. Of who to meet and how. Especially so, after outlining clearly some objectives that you may have in mind.

d. Find out more about the market before you go. Read up about the population, economics, history, socio-political environment etc.

e. Report the observations right back when you are at your desk. Share. Connect people and problems.

A leader’s value comes from connecting the dots, drawing patterns, discussing and deciding. Of these, the dots are something that can be picked up from the field. Accompanying the dots for free, is the conviction to stay the course with the decisions that get made on the basis of these immersive dots! Ground up is a good way to go.