Seems like most gardens with strong leaders run into this situation. Either folks have had it with an autocratic leader (regardless of how well intentioned he or she might be), or the leader is trying to figure out how to get out gracefully before he or she has a stroke. Of course, waiting around for the stroke sort of solves everybody's problem, but in a not very nice way. Sometimes the impetus comes just from somebody who realizes that an autocracy is inherently weak, regardless of the personalities involved. Nonetheless, getting out of that situation is never easy. Best idea is to not get into that situation in the first place, but who is wise enough to pull that off.
It sounds, at least, as if you have a person who is willing to step down. That sort of solves what can be the biggest problem - dislodging the entrenched leader. Even so, longtime leaders will have lots of thoughts running through their heads and hearts. If I don't do it, it won't get done. If I want it done right I have to do it myself. There's just one more thing I want to get done before I step down. If I'm not here, that jerk will get the job. If I step down and it falls apart, it will all be my fault. It will be awkward to go to the garden if I'm not running things - people will look at me funny. In the face of that litany, it's tough for anybody to actually do what needs to be done to step away.
So, the first thing is that the potentially retiring leader needs to bone up on tough love and faith in the strenght and creativity of fellow humans. They need to believe that somebody else could probably handle the job. They need to believe that although their way is the best way, another way might work. They need to believe that if they disappear somebody else or a group will somehow rise to the challenge. They need to believe that it's not really their job to carry the world on their shoulders.
There can be some preparation for the multitudes. It's not a bad idea to announce one's intentions in advance. It's not a bad idea to suggest ways for people to take over the reins. It may be useful to propose a governance and succession system a la Clinton CG so that people will have some tracks to follow.
On the other hand, there's no power like the power of creating a vacuum. At some point the person actually has to walk away. Strokes and cancer probably aren't the best solutions, but they communicate well. A difficult pregnancy works if you are of the right sex and age group. Sometimes a little lying is useful. Instead of saying I'm just too damn tired to keep doing this (What a wuss!), maybe you can blame it on a doctor - he says if I don't cut back there won't be another harvest for me. Somehow that break needs to be made, and the person stepping down has to decide to do it and then do it.
Don't let preparations stall the process. The leader stepping down can try to ease the transition by communicating or organizing committees or something, but if the departure gets put off because the preparations aren't complete, you are back in the same co-dependent circle.
This is all a matter of faith, belief in fellow humans and oneself. And faith is a tough topic. Good luck.
Jack N. Hale
Knox Parks Foundation
75 Laurel Street
Hartford, CT 06106
From: Lynn M. Gregor [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Date: 09/24/2004 10:01 AM
I would love to get some feedback on a dilemma on which I am currently trying to advise the Garden Leader at one of our larger garden sites:
The volunteer Garden Leader puts in many, many hours of time to manage this garden that has 95 plots and over 100 participants. The Leader has done this for quite a while (over 20 years?? - maybe a bit less). The plot fees were recently raised to $20 per plot and that was difficult to do because they did not want to make the cost prohibitive. The money goes to regular maintenance and event costs. The Leader has a team of people who helps them and gardeners need to do 10 - 20 hours of community time each year. However, the Leader is getting burnt out and there isn't exactly people knocking on the doors to become leader.
I discussed with the Leader the possibility of paying someone to do some of the duties (as another garden in Cleveland does). Does anyone have any suggestions on setting up a more sustainable structure for the management of this garden? Incidentally, the garden is under pressure from the surrounding neighborhood that has gone through somewhat of a gentrification and is one of the most desirable neighborhoods. Therefore the Leader expressed some fear that if they stepped down there would be condominiums being built on the garden site in a few years.
Thank you in advance for your time and any ideas shared.
Ohio State University Extension, Cuyahoga Co.