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Jeff McManus – Growing Weeders into Leaders – Leadership Lessons from the Ground Level

Behind-the-scenes story of cultivating a culture of excellence among the Ole Miss landscape crew.

 Jeff McManus was hired to head the Landscape Services Department at Ole Miss in 2001. His charge from the Chancellor was to “make the place look loved.” Candidly telling the story of the trials and triumphs in getting his wary crew’s buy-in to becoming “the best of the best” among campuses, he presents the leadership lessons he learned along the way. His ultimate success in unifying his team and earning awards for the beauty of the university’s grounds are testaments to the importance he placed on nurturing the leadership potential of each team member.

Growing Weeders into Leaders serves as a primer for how to encourage leadership throughout an organization. McManus took measures to make his department as flat as possible, setting the tone that staff can learn from one another. Some of the best ideas, he says, come from front-line staff. He’s not concerned with being the smartest person in the room.

 To help set high standards, McManus instituted Landscape U — regular training sessions that encompassed not only improving on landscaping skills, but also on leadership practices. The crew also made time for field trips to other college campuses to glean new ideas and draw comparisons. Employees grew to understand their vital role in attracting top talent to the university.

 McManus believes that great leaders care more about the success of their team than their individual success. He writes, “No paycheck or personal success will ever top the satisfaction of seeing the people you lead achieve new heights and aspirations.”

 About the Author:

Jeff McManus grows things. As the Director of Landscape Services at the University of Mississippi, he grows plants….he grows people….he grows ideas. Jeff is a problem-solver, understanding that doing more with less is a 21st-century mandate.

After coming to the University in 2000, Jeff took on the challenge of managing a multi-million dollar landscaping beautification implementation project. Faced with a demand for excellence and high productivity, and a stagnant budget, Jeff knew that growing the people was critical to growing the plants. Through that experience, Jeff developed his approach to managing resources and developing personnel – his GROW-theory; a management and professional development approach based on the belief that all humans either strive for or have within them the elements of Greatness, Resiliency, Opportunity, and Wisdom – they just need a fertile environment to GROW.

Taking his grounds staff, affectionately known as “weeders”, and developing them into “leaders” has been a joyous challenge that reaped acres of rewards in the form of national recognition by the Princeton Review, PGMS, Newsweek and every faculty, staff, student and visitor who has walked onto the Ole Miss Campus. Building on that momentum, Jeff has designed a professional development plan for his Weeders called Landscape University – a replicable training program that promotes the individual’s innate ability to GROW.

Jeff holds a Bachelor of Science in Landscape and Ornamental Horticulture from Auburn University and is a PGMS Certified Grounds manager, and Certified Arborist. His message rings true for any industry leader or manager looking to GROW a high-performance and dedicated workforce. Jeff has spoken at Caterpillar Inc, the Biltmore Estates, Leadercast, SRAPPA, Trent Lott Leadership Institute as well as the SEC Ole Miss Athletics. He has also worked with Memphis University, the University of Tennessee, the University of Georgia and private firms in developing their own training programs.

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