A team of strawberries

strawberries, fruits, berries-6379817.jpg

I think my thumb is permanently stained. I spent another morning yesterday, patiently picking strawberries at the U-Pick farm close to my family’s cottage. Picking and then cleaning. Oh, and plenty of eating.

When I was younger, I was so dainty, using a paring knife to gently slice the hull from the strawberries – poking the tip under the flesh, and then running a careful circle, where the ripe fruit met the green leaves. As I grew older, and my fascination with all things culinary exploded, I bought a fancy tool from one of those home party companies, specifically designed to hull strawberries easily.  Now don’t get me wrong, that tool works exceptionally well when cleaning the genetically modified, tough, white-hearted strawberries that come from the grocery store all year long.  But for fresh strawberries, nothing works better than the same hands that gently picked them from the plants. A thumbnail, gently pressing against the soft fruit, is the perfect tool to scoop the hull as the strawberry releases its juices, bursting with ripe delight.

As an aside, I remember my forest ecology professor going onabout how unnatural it was to be able to buy strawberries out of season. That the genetic modification that allows for them to be forced to produce fruit in a hothouse, and in months where they should be dormant – that just couldn’t be good for us.  I may not have understood Dr. Tardiff back in 1998, but I totally get it now. There is no comparison between the fruit that comes in a plastic clamshell with ones that you pick and eat, dirt and all, from a wide open field in the steamy heat of a July morning in rural Manitoba.

As I clean the strawberries and enjoy an extra ripe one every now and then (because it would just turn to mush if I placed it in the bowl with the others), I can’t help but think about my strawberries within the context of leading a team.

It’s rare that a leader has the opportunity to pick their own team. Usually, we step into a new role and inherit a motley crew of team members. Some motivated, others not. Most, skilled in some areas. But often, lots of people in roles that don’t bring out their strengths – the wrong bum in the wrong seat, if you will.

Over the course of the last 15 years, I changed leadership roles 6 times. And each time, with the exception of once, I inherited a team. In every one of those groups of people, there were different flavours. Some were like orange strawberries – they were picked for advanced work, but really could have used more time on the vine, to ripen, to develop their skills. Others were like those dark red berries – they look beautiful on the vine, but when you look closer, they are actually watery and without much substance. In the workplace, this manifests as people who seem like they’re doing a great job, but are either dialing it in, or spending their time painting a picture of a hard worker. 

Then, there are all of the berries in the middle. It’s easy to think of them as alike. But when you eat a handful of berries, one by one, you notice that each of them tastes different. And each of them would benefit from slightly different treatment. Some are perfect as they are. Others need a sprinkle of sugar to soften their bright flavour. Others would benefit from being paired with chocolate to complement and enhance their taste. Some are bland, and need to paired with rhubarb and baked into a pie – even though they aren’t flavourful, their gifts are in their texture.

This is no different than your employees. They all come with gifts in the form of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Your job as a leader is to consider them as individuals, to look for those gifts, and support them with just the right motivation, challenges, and rewards to bring out their best.    

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.