As an avid reader, I’m always looking for stories to relate and align with my life, business ventures, and leadership. Some of my favorite writers, like Ken Blanchard, have a knack for writing in parables (a story used to teach a lesson) to impart a leadership principle.   

One of my favorite parables comes from the Bible. In the parable, entitled “The Parable of the Sower” or “The Parable of the Soils,” Jesus talks to his disciples about His teachings and how they are received. He explains why some people do not accept His teachings and the different “soils” they fall into. Additionally, He discusses why some people don’t listen at all, and why others listen but don’t follow.  

As I reflected on this parable, I began to consider how I could relate the teaching to business and leadership. How does The Parable of the Soils correlate to the business world? How does it connect with being a leader? After a great deal of contemplation, I realized that 21st-century leaders must cultivate “good soil” in the workplace if they want to retain their top talent.

But how do we get there? What are the common trends in the workforce that impede the cultivation of “good soil?” Before we dive in, it must be clear that one constant remains throughout The Parable of the Soils: “A sower went out to sow his seed.” The sower, or leader, must take action to sow seed. In other words, a leader must be proactive at cultivating the soil for growth of employees and to reap a “harvest.” 

Hard Soil and Birds

The parable begins with the sower venturing out to sow the seed. However, because the seed fell on hard soil, birds came and ate it. A 21st-century leader must ensure the culture of the organization is not “hard soil.” If this is the case, employees will not grow. The organization must also be aware of the “birds” or naysayers and pessimists within the organization who do not support the growth of others. Leaders: the birds will get to some. However, to grow your employees, ensure you don’t sow a culture on hard soil. And never stop sowing.

Shallow Soil and Heat

Next, the parable discusses seed that fell among the rocks with shallow soil where they could not grow roots. A 21st-century leader must cultivate a culture where employees can grow leadership “roots.” This takes time and will not happen overnight. However, if employees are not encouraged, inspired, or edified, they will not grow roots; then when hardships come and struggles arise, the “heat” will burn them up and you may lose them. Leaders: like the birds, the heat will also get some. However, to grow employees, ensure you don’t sow a culture on shallow soil. And never stop sowing.  

Bad Soil and Thorns

Next, the parable talks about seed that fell on bad soil where thorns were intermixed. The “thorns” are the tyranny of the urgent. The inflexibility of life and work that keeps each person from doing the best things. Thorns make you focus on unimportant matters and allow you to believe you are making progress. A leader must cultivate a culture free of thorns through focused efforts on the right things. Leaders: thorns will get some. However, to grow employees, ensure you don’t sow a culture on bad soil with thorns. And never stop sowing.

Good Soil

Finally, the parable gets to the good soil. Not only is the soil good, but it yielded 30, 60, and 100 times its original form. This soil transpires when leaders cultivate a culture of growth and abundance. A culture where employees are cherished and nourished because of the strengths they bring to the team. A culture where leaders strategize and organize teams in order to mitigate weakness. A culture where everyone wins.

The key here is that if an employee can only yield 30, don’t make them out to be someone they are not. Put them where they are best suited and let them yield the 30. Some will yield 60 and others 100. Leaders: seek to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and passions of your employees and let them surprise you with their yield. But never forget to always keep sowing!

Zig Ziglar once said, “You can get everything you want, if you help enough people get what they want.” Are you consistently sowing seeds of leadership? What type of soil are you cultivating? How are your employees growing in the soil you’re providing? If you are unsure, The Parable of the Sower can get you started.