Byron's Babbles

Mending Fences

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership, Learning Organization, Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 3, 2012

As most of you know I live on a farm. My son raises Jersey dairy cows so one of the jobs that periodically has to happen is fence maintenance. I got to thinking how true this is in leadership of organizations as well. There are basically four jobs my son and I were doing:

#1. Checking for areas that needed maintenance or repair.

#2. Tightening up loose wires (we have high tensile fence).

#3. Replacing fence staples that had popped out (the fence staples hold the high tensile wire to the posts).

#4. Cleaning out and spraying weeds around the fence.

If these four maintenance items are taken care of regularly a fence will remain strong and do it’s job. Let’s look at each of these actions individually and compare them to leadership in an organization.

Checking of Areas of Needed Maintenance/Repair

Marzano (2005) calls this situational awareness and has it as #2o on his list of 21 Responsibilities of a Leader. Situational awareness is knowledge of what is going on in the school (or organization), feelings and emotions, day to day activities. This will allow the leader to anticipate any issues, or be better prepared should a situation arise (Marzano, 2005). It is very important that we, as leaders, know what is going on in our organizations. We must be out checking the fences, so to speak, knowing what is going on. As I always say, “People by day, paperwork at night.”

Tightening Up Loose Wires

Our high Tensile fence makes use of eight wires (heavy gauge) that are tightened to give them strength. Loose wires encourage the animal to try to go through. Because I believe in the flattened hierarchy of the learning organization (Garvin, 2000) I really believe in a tight-loose approach to leadership. Successful organizations ensure every person, regardless of position, has a clear understanding of what the vision and mission is and the ability and the opportunity to achieve the goals and drive results. Movement toward a tight-loose culture, which is high on clarity and empowerment, enables all employees to lead from where they are and be effective ambassadors for their organization.

Replacing Fence Staples That Have Popped Out

This may mean at times we may need to bring new people in to replace employees that just aren’t getting it done or provide professional development to get individuals back on track. This goes back to my first point of being situationally aware of what is going on.

Removing the Weeds

This point is so important to leading an organization. Weed removal is analagous to leading in a complex organization. Just as the fence needs a clear pathway to realize it’s full potential, so do our team members. An ideal environment contains the correct mixture of diversity, climate, capability, and potential. The key is to cultivate them and diligently remove the competition (weeds) and through really understanding (situational awareness) their different needs, build lasting relationships.

Hopefully, these four points of fence mending and maintenance can help you do a better job of maintaining your organization!


Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Marzano, R. J. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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  1. The Leader’s Toolbox | Byron's Babbles said, on February 21, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    […] maintenance today. As we worked I thought about a blog post I did a few years ago entitled “Mending Fences.” You can read it here, but it dealt with how the maintenance done to keep a high tensile […]


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