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Waiting is hard, and there’s a temptation to find another way.

Shortcuts promise growth without all the time and work. They often come disguised as more effective methods of growth. You can usually recognize shortcuts when they promise growth by doing just this one thing, buying this one product, taking this one course. Often is something they're selling.

The Temptation of Overnight Success

In the past, while attending a conference, someone will share about the fantastic results they're seeing. It is very tempting to think, “I just need to do what they did, and I’ll get those same results.”

I usually miss or am tempted to ignore that they've been doing this for a long time. Their success was not an overnight result of one action. We love stories of overnight success and tend to ignore the decade of work that preceded it.

This backstory is critical! Without it, I will most certainly not achieve the same results. I can evaluate how to apply what I learn from someone else's experience with a fuller understanding. This understanding also enables me to set proper expectations.

Manufacturing Growth

I once built a plant (pictured above). Yeah, you read that right. I wanted to illustrate to my team that you can’t build what must grow. When I first showed them the plant, I asked for observations. From more than two feet away, nobody noticed the tape. It looked healthy; the leaves were green and plentiful. But it was dying. Manufacturing growth is tempting because it feels like a shortcut to fruit.  But, in actuality, there is no life to be found.

We love overnight success, but ignore the decade of work that preceded it.

There is a Chinese idiom 拔苗助长 (Ba Miao Zhu Zhang) which tells of a story of a farmer who would daily measure the growth of his crops and felt they grew too slowly. He tried giving them a slight tug to accelerate their growth. That day, his plants were taller, so he continued. They seemed to be thriving, yet they were dying as their roots were slowly ripped from the soil. Eventually, he destroyed his crop.

As a leader, manufacturing growth looks like trying to emulate an amalgam of all the success stories you hear. You're taking the leaves of others' success and taping them to yourself as I did with my manufactured plant.

Does life ever feel like a hack rather than on purpose?

You want your life to have meaning and impact. Daily life is made up of the spaces we gather and the moments we interact with one another.

What if your spaces, moments, and interactions not only felt natural and intuitive but also aligned with your priorities and positively impacted those around you?

Discover your Everyday Design so you can focus on what’s important.

It all depends on…me?

The fundamental fallacy of manufacturing growth is the assumption that the growth must come from me, I must see it, and I must produce it. When I cultivate, I am deeply involved in the process. But I'm not the cause of the growth. Many plants I cultivate don't grow. And many I ignore or even actively try to kill, instead thrive.

The same is true with people. Even the best leader or parent doesn't guarantee to thriving team or child. As a leader, you have significant influence, but you don't control the outcome. Jesus tells a story teaching this same principle.

The fundamental fallacy of manufacturing growth is the assumption that the growth must come from me, I must see it, and I must produce it

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the whole grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once, he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."

As you cultivate leaders, you steward a great trust and want to be found faithful. And at the same time, you need a humility that reminds us we can't bear the fruit on our own.

As my jalapeños grew, they eventually fruited, and when they already had fruit, they would still produce and then drop flowers. It seemed they “knew” whether they could handle additional fruit at that time. I wanted them to keep producing continually. That would have prevented them from ever delivering mature fruit and would have likely killed the plant. Impatience will prevent us too from maturing and reaching our full potential.

Questions to reflect on:

  1. What shortcut have you tried or been tempted to try in cultivating leaders?
  2. What has been most helpful to you in resisting these temptations not to wait?

Instead of seeking a shortcut, you can be faithful in the roles of cultivating leaders; providing, protecting, pruning, waiting, resting, and restarting.


Want to know more about how to cultivate leaders? Download the eBook.


This post is part of my cultivating servant leaders guide where I share lessons learned from 20 years of leading and helping other leaders grow. You can explore other guides at everyday.design or download the eBook.