Growing Weeders Into Leaders: Leadership Lessons from the Ground Up

Growing Weeders Into Leaders: Leadership Lessons from the Ground Up

by Jeff McManus


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Aristotle and Nike got it right – GREATNESS is what we humans DO – when given the challenge, the encouragement, the environment, and the opportunity.

At some point in this postmodern life, individual greatness has lost its appeal for many of us. It has been commodified and relegated to those who are measured by shortest/longest times, impressive distances, highest heights, lowest lows, medals won, honors given…and again…Aristotle and Nike got it right…GREATNESS is what we can DO…every day…without recognition or reward, but for the satisfaction that comes from meeting the challenge, creating a team, and overcoming the odds. And that is what Growing Weeders into Leaders is about.

It is an entertaining and thoughtful look into the hearts and the workday lives of ordinary people - just like you and me - who tapped into their inner greatness in pursuit of a vision. Creating one of America's most beautiful college campuses, at Ole Miss, did not happen overnight and, inside these pages, Jeff McManus describes the joys, the defeats, the brilliant problem-solving and the "best laid plans" that are proven worthless...until the bigger picture is told. It is the "bigger picture" told from the ground level. Growing Weeders into Leaders takes you through the practical applications of empowering people to experience not only what it means to grow outstanding landscapes, but also to grow greatness in themselves and encourage it in others.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683503309
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 09/05/2017
Pages: 166
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Doing more with less is a 21st century mandate and no one knows this better than a Director of Landscape Services. Jeff McManus, CGM, has found unique ways of meeting that mandate by developing a dedicated, thoughtful and inspiring work force. Jeff’s GROW-Theory, which is based on the belief that all humans either strive for or have within them the elements of Greatness, Resiliency, Opportunity and Wisdom, has been fruitful on the Ole Miss campus. McManus developed Landscape University™ to intrinsically motivate his employees personally, while training them professionally. Jeff has a bachelor's degree in Landscape and Ornamental Horticulture from Auburn University and is the recipient of the 2016 Horticulture Alumni of the year. He is also an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist.

Jeff has been with the University of Mississippi since 2000 as Director of Landscape Services. During those years Jeff and his team have gained national recognition for their attention to detail and eye for beauty. Under Jeff’s leadership the Ole Miss campus has won the National Professional Grounds Maintenance Society Best Maintained Campus twice, Newsweek’s most beautiful campus in 2011 and was named by the Princeton Review as the 2013 most beautiful campus. Jeff led his team in some creative waste management, which caught the attention of The New York Times, November 1, 2014.

Jeff is a popular speaker and trainer for local, state and national organizations and industry. His first book Pruning Like A Pro has garnered attention for its fun and simple approach to the gardener’s dilemma…pruning!

Read an Excerpt


The Story of Thomas

Cultivating Failure

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently."

Henry Ford

At 24 years of age, just out of college, Thomas was hired by a large landscaping corporation to manage a high-end resort in Orlando, Florida. He was as green as the grass for which he was responsible, wide-eyed, and a bit overwhelmed; yet, he proved to be talented in the field. In less than a year, he was recruited by another luxury resort in Miami. The resort was rebuilding and hoping to shed its old '70s disco image.

Youngest in his department, Thomas was responsible for overseeing all the landscaping of the magnificent 300-acre resort featuring condominiums, hotels, fine dining, tennis, golf, and a shopping mall.

Yet the resort was also known for its employee theft, highly inefficient production, and challenging labor union. The crew had been left leaderless and on its own to figure out what to do. Territorial turf wars ensued among the staff, club members were getting questionable favors, while some employees could not even be found during the day. Without accountability, everyone did what it took to survive.

Thomas only spoke English in the midst of multilingual workers who talked about him, even while standing right in front of him.

During his naïve, early days of leadership, he was convinced he did not have enough staff to adequately manage all the properties his teams serviced. In a matter of a few months, he increased the size of the crew by 35 percent. He also hired two assistant managers to help provide additional leadership. On paper, it looked good, with plenty of staff, adequate management, and an organizational structure that covered all the areas.

However, the additional staff brought new challenges such as time management, quality control, territorial silo, more people to manage and motivate, more drama, expenses, equipment, uniforms, benefits, more of everything. It was anything but paradise.

To fast-track his lack of plant knowledge in this new tropical climate, Thomas took a night class in horticulture at a nearby community college. He was determined to make the resort property a success and do it quickly. He walked the properties he managed, meeting condo managers, working with vendors, exploring new solutions. Daily, he did one-on-one, in-the-field training with staff. He was always putting out fires, dealing with drama, and constantly creating to-do lists for his staff.

A few months after hiring all the new workers, Thomas got a call from the chief financial officer — a call that brought more bad news. His department was losing money on all the outside contracts. The new hires and additional expenses were busting the budget.

In a rapid response, Thomas worked with leadership and determined that the rates they were charging the customers were too low and needed to be raised. On paper, this looked good to accounting, but the customer base pushed back against the sharp increases. First, one property dropped Thomas' team, then another, and another, until finally seven properties were lost.

With the loss of multiple maintenance contracts, Thomas was faced with yet a new problem, too many staff. The agonizing decision was made to lay off over half his landscape staff.

The day of the layoffs arrived, and Thomas broke the news to each staff member. He would later reflect that it was one of the worst days of his life, knowing these people and their families would be affected by the loss of their jobs. It was a gut-wrenching day preceded and followed by many sleepless nights.

With the downsized staff, Thomas proceeded to work even longer and harder to make the resort properties a success. Willing to jump in and get his hands dirty, he jumped on a tractor from time to time to assist the crews and help foster a higher morale. He had always been taught not to be afraid to get his hands dirty. But in a union environment, where relationships had not been built between management and the workforce, there were misunderstandings.

"You're taking away our jobs by being on the tractor," the union steward complained.

His comment shocked Thomas who was trying to lead by example. He felt betrayed and misunderstood.

Rick Quits

"Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out."

Benjamin Franklin

Rick, a star employee, asked Thomas how he liked the seasonal flower bed that he and his crew had just planted. Thomas was excited and thought they had done a good job, but he did not want them to get overconfident. He praised the work but quickly followed it up with a picky, negative comment about a few plants being imperfectly aligned.

Rick looked disappointed. His shoulders slumped as he looked Thomas in the eye and said, "I quit." He dropped his tools at Thomas' feet and turned and walked away.

As the rest of the crew stared at him, Thomas felt shocked and embarrassed by what had just happened. Rick was known throughout the company as the "go-to guy" on the site, highly talented with many years of experience, and now on Thomas' watch, he had quit.

"Oh no, no, no, no, no," Thomas thought. He wanted to stop Rick, but he let the situation play out.

A day or so later, Rick changed his mind and went back to work. He shared with Thomas what he was hearing not only that day but each day from him.

"It is like we can never please you," he said. "You always have to be critical of our work, and it really hurts our confidence the way you do it."

"Ouch," Thomas thought. This was not easy to hear, so he became defensive but kept silent. But in reflection, he realized Rick was right. As a young manager, Thomas was learning that his words mattered.


"What we see as failure may actually be progress."

Dan Miller, Author, "48 Days to the Work You Love"

Late one night after attending his community college horticulture class, Thomas was driving home alone. Two minutes from home, he fell asleep at the wheel. His car slammed into a large tree in the median strip. No one else was hurt, but Thomas was unconscious, and he was rushed to the hospital. Fortunately, he was wearing his seat belt and only suffered minor cuts, a chipped bone in his ankle, and few stitches to the eyebrow.

The next day, a bit groggy, Thomas lay in his hospital bed, staring at the wall, and started to think about work.

After the layoffs, he had received some anonymous hate mail. Doubt about the direction he was going in had begun to worry him. Where was all this going? Was it really worth the price? At times, Thomas felt like it was him versus the crew members, labor against management. He had strived to do the best he could at work, but it was too exhausting.

Thomas recalled the teachings he had learned all his life. He remembered the words of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: "You can have everything in life you want, if you'll just help enough other people get what they want."

Thomas was beginning to take this to heart. Was there a better way to make others feel respected and appreciated? He realized that nothing was going to change unless he changed first. It took time, but slowly Thomas began to pay more attention to the people with whom he worked. He started providing better training sessions that gave them a sense of purpose at work. He started instilling a sense of pride in the team. In time, the landscape team won several state awards and a national award.

He began to view work through the eyes of his staff members and to tie their tasks back to a larger meaning of why they were there working: to provide for themselves and their families, to being a five-star resort. He reminded them that their work set the first impression, that their role was a vital part of the guest experience. Thomas slowly began to create a team where everyone had a role and every role was important. He was beginning to see the bigger picture.

As you probably have already guessed, the reason I know the story of Thomas so well is because I am Thomas: Jeffery Thomas McManus. As you can see, I made a lot of mistakes. Some may call them failures, but I call them my road to progress.


Cultivating Greatness

Vision Has to Have Meaning

"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Author, "The Little Prince"

I sat in University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert C. Khayat's office on a beautiful, sunny day in Oxford. I had never met the chancellor in person and wasn't sure what to expect.

"I want a five-star campus!" he said.

Ah! He knew my background was in hotels and resorts — he was speaking my language! I glanced out the office window, then his eyes caught mine and he nodded. He had a vision for the potential on campus and wanted me to understand. He knew time and neglect had taken their toll on the facilities and landscape of Ole Miss, obscuring the splendor that could be. He wanted me on his team, and by the end of that interview, I knew I had found a new home.

My challenge was clear: Make the Ole Miss landscape the best. It would be the secret to accomplishing Khayat's other goals such as recruiting and retaining top students, including student-athletes, and top faculty in the research centers and classrooms.

People want to be associated with winners, and prospective students and their parents, visitors, and faculty and staff candidates would connect quickly with a beautifully landscaped campus.

But reaching that goal was going to be challenging. No one in our department had worked in or knew what it meant to have a five- star property. Most were comfortable where they were. Although the system was dysfunctional, it was a system they knew.

One day, while making my morning rounds, I bumped into the chancellor as he was finishing his early morning walk, and I asked him if I could give him a ride back to his home. He agreed. I asked, "What is the best way to get a vision that people will go along with?" Without hesitation he said, "There are four basic steps you need to follow:

1. Know who you are.

2. Know who you want to be.

3. Get buy-in from everyone.

4. Allow for honest and open feedback and disagreement at any time."

Then he added, "Make the vision big enough to challenge everyone to be the best, to strive for excellence in all they do, to be a leader. Don't set small goals, and don't get caught up in feeling sorry for yourself as so many people do. And expect some people to laugh at you. Some people laughed when we first began the process of establishing a Phi Beta Kappa chapter here with the goal of becoming a great American university." He smiled and nodded. "They're not laughing now."

Make Your Vision Stick

"Vision doesn't stick without constant care and attention."

Andy Stanley, Communicator, Author, and Pastor

After my interview with Chancellor Khayat, I knew I wanted to help create a top campus and that we needed a great team of people. But I also knew that getting others to have that same desire would be a challenge. Creating the buy-in was going to be the key, and this would take time.

I wanted to pursue setting a vision, so I gathered more insights from leaders such as Andy Stanley and John Maxwell. I was glad to learn that a vision statement can be short. Stanley said eight words or less is enough, and it doesn't have to cover everything you do. It needs to be something everyone can relate to, remember, and repeat.

Our landscape team tried several times to develop a vision statement. Year after year, we hit a road block. It takes a pecan tree four to eight years to produce pecans. Perhaps it would take our landscape team that long to write the vision statement. Then, Chris Hardy, one of our landscape student workers, noted while watching our staff working its magic, "We are cultivating greatness." Thus, our vision statement was born.

Growth from Within

"Great men are not born great, they grow great ..."

Mario Puzo, Author, "The Godfather"

Plants grow quietly and at varying rates. Once we had our vision statement, it was time to go about developing the vision. And like plants, personal and professional growth happens quietly and at varying speeds. As the teams moved about campus tending the plants, they started cultivating the greatness within themselves and one another.

Everyone has the potential for greatness. Taking the time to dig around and discover it is the hard part. In Landscape Services, we found the time, and doing so has made us better as a team in our work, and for many of us, in our home lives.

Take Denise Hill for example. One day while walking down the sidewalk, I noticed she was expertly operating a line trimmer. She paused to let me walk by, smiled, nodded, then she went back to work. She was a hardworking, front-line staff member who took a lot of pride in her work. With very little formal training, she energized those around her with her enthusiasm. She stood out among the staff.

After seeing how we were behind in managing the shrubs, flowers, and ground cover, I asked Hill if she would consider tackling this project. She eagerly agreed and began putting her magical touch on the plants. Before long, we added more newly landscaped areas, and her work quickly expanded.

I then asked her if she would consider training a few more people to work with her, and she paused, unsure if she was ready for the challenge of being responsible for the decisions and outcome when one takes on a leadership role. I encouraged her to try and, as expected, she did a wonderful job, and she was promoted to supervisor. She built collaboration and called her work crew "Delta Force" because her team would do things no other team wanted to do.

In time, as my role increased on campus with the addition of the University Airport and then the Ole Miss Golf Course, I needed leaders who could step up to lead our day-to-day operations in Landscape Services. I knew Hill would make a great leader, but when I approached her, she was again hesitant to make the move up. One of the few females on our staff, she would be overseeing her former boss and taking on more responsibilities, but she is a grower at heart. She can grow plants as well as help people develop their potential. She rose to the challenge and is now superintendent of Landscape Services.


"The landscaping at Ole Miss makes a huge impact on our recruits and parents."

Hugh Freeze, head football coach, Ole Miss Rebels

Knowing how important first impressions are for those coming for a college visit elevates our employees' awareness of how important they are when it comes to recruiting top students, faculty, and staff to our campus. According to a Noel-Levitz national research report in 2012 titled "Why Did They Enroll? The Factors Influencing College Choice," 63 percent of four-year, public, first-year students considered appearance of the campus as an important factor when deciding whether to enroll in an institution.

It may sound improbable, but our staff may play a part in helping to cure a disease, sending people into space, or putting the next All-American athlete on the playing field because they help to create that first impression.

Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork has visited our department on several occasions to help reinforce our impact in recruiting top athletes. Hugh Freeze, head football coach, and Mike Bianco, head baseball coach, have done the same. I knew the vision of cultivating greatness was hitting home with our staff when a team member confessed to the group that he hated putting down pine straw in the shrub beds, but he did it because he might be helping to recruit the next Eli Manning, Patrick Willis, or Dexter McCluster.

David Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy, and Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, have visited our team and shared their stories of leadership and expressed the importance of our role in making the job of recruiting the best and brightest students and faculty just a little easier.

These people connect the dots that show our staff members they matter and are making a difference. Yes, we mow grass, trim shrubs, and plant trees, but we also cultivate an environment for others to learn, create, and play while on their way to making a positive change in the world. We are cultivating greatness.


Cultivating a Culture

"If you do not change, you can become extinct!"

Spencer Johnson, Author, "Who Moved My Cheese?"

On May 1, 2000, I introduced myself to members of the newly formed Landscape Services department at Ole Miss. Most of the staff seemed to know already that our new department would now answer directly to both the vice chancellor of finance and administration and the chancellor. Although some of the former administrators were no longer in charge of this department, most of the challenges were still very much present.

It did not take me long to feel the tension between management and the crews. Daily, I could sense distrust, anger, resentment, confusion, fear, and apathy as I got to know the crew. I wondered why such feelings were so deep, fresh, and evident in the group.


Excerpted from "Growing Weeders into Leaders"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jeff McManus.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1,
The Story of Thomas,
Cultivating Failure,
Rick Quits,
Chapter 2,
Cultivating Greatness,
Vision Has to Have Meaning,
Make Your Vision Stick,
Growth from Within,
Chapter 3,
Cultivating a Culture,
Show You Care,
Keep on Plowing,
Think Like an Investor,
Find Hidden Leaders,
Take Inventory,
Share Core Values,
Work Smarter, Not Harder,
Details Matter,
Create Picture-Perfect Moments,
Be the Best of the Best,
Chapter 4,
Low-Hanging Fruit,
Identify Quick Wins,
Be Resourceful,
Remove Obstacles,
Do It Right for Long-term Success,
Take Pride in the Workplace,
Chapter 5,
Cultivating Greatness through Training,
Why Landscape University?,
Results of Training,
Chapter 6,
Everyone Is a Leader,
Titles Don't Make You a Leader,
Why Develop Leaders?,
Plant Seeds of Leadership,
Environment Matters,
Set Employees Up for Success,
Don't Be Intimidated,
Chapter 7,
Growing Leaders, not Weeders,
What You Have Is Contagious,
Monday Morning Meeting,
Field Trips,
Conferences and Trade Shows,
Personal Goals,
Walk Alongside Your Team,
Laugh Olympics,
Check Out the Library,
Chapter 8,
Weeding by Example,
Practice What You Preach,
Cultivate Respect,
The Golden Rule,
Sign Your Work,
Chapter 9,
Celebrating the Harvests,
Clarify the Win,
Celebrate Big Wins,
Celebrate Personal Wins,
The Product,
Chapter 10,
Growing the Legacy of Leadership,
Time Is Limited,
Create a Creed,
Landscape Creed,
About the Author,
Denise Hill,
Lloyd "Mac" McManus,
David Jumper,
Gerald Barron,
Nathan Lazinsky,

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