What Permaculture Teaches Us About Leadership

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The 12 principles of permaculture offer us insights that go beyond their design and agricultural origins and into the realm of leadership and life itself.

Though expressed as design principles for agriculture, the 12 principles of permaculture can also be interpreted more broadly, as important principles for decision making and leadership, helping us take action in an integrated way on a variety issues.

Here are a few of these principles, taken beyond the field, the garden, and the forest, to see what they can offer all of us as leaders. 

Use small and slow solutions.

In the face of injustice, it’s tempting to scream "Revolution!" and hope for overnight changes to set things right. However, genuine revolution is only seen in hindsight and is proceeded by countless small efforts taken over time—even if at first glance it seems like there was one catalytic event that tipped the scale. Slow solutions are equally important if the changes we seek to bring about are to have genuine buy-in from everyone around us.

The website Permaculture Principles uses a snail to illustrate this, saying, “small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes. The proverb ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’ reminds us of the disadvantages of excessive size and growth while ‘slow and steady wins the race’ encourages patience while reflecting on a common truth in nature and society.”

Obtain a yield.

Especially when dealing with issues of sustainability, the full fruits of our labor may be a long time coming. Nevertheless, it's important to remember that rewarding ourselves and those around us along the way, reminding everyone that their efforts are amounting to something and their toil has been useful, is critically important. 

Observe and interact.

If we observe nature we are likely to notice that while there are overall patterns and propensities, how these manifest in a particular situation varies widely. While we may favor one particular approach, based on our own individual stylistic likes and dislikes, we can’t be so attached to this external form that we become blinded to other possibilities. Pay attention, observe, and respond to the unique situation before you. 

Creatively use and respond to change.

The saying goes, "The only thing that is constant is change." Is it good, bad, indifferent, progressive, regressive, or status quo that the caterpillar becomes a butterfly? Or is it simply change? 

How we respond, and are able to respond, to change plays a large part in how we ultimately categorize changes in our lives. As leaders (remembering that we are all leaders in our own way), we always have some measure of capability to respond creatively to change.