This week, we’re highlighting CEEK’s Chief Gardener of People, Jennifer Hughes. You’ll be seeing more from Jennifer on the blog in the coming weeks as she guides 12 leaders through her SOAR Program. For now: Meet Jennifer!
Can you tell us about what it means to be CEEK’s Chief Gardener of People?
When you see a beautiful flower, you don’t think, “Who’s the gardener?” Behind the flower are many gardeners who help it reach its potential. Being one of those gardeners is what I see my role as; however, I'm a gardener of people. I don’t need to be front and center in this process because the flower (people) speaks for itself. I like to help people grow. As a coach, I see people bigger than they see themselves. I see their capacity to be in a role they’re not currently in. I see the potential in others that they can't yet see for themselves. I like helping them explore internally so they reach that potential. It’s my hope and desire to be part of that process to see people grow into what I know they can be.
And no, I don’t really like gardening plants. I respect it, but most of my plants die. That’s why I’m a gardener of people.
How did you get into the field?
I came to the field through trial, error, and a lot of training. I grew up in a family of teachers and wanted to be one growing up. I don’t think I knew there were other areas of teaching, like mentoring and coaching. In my second job out of college, I started teaching people how to use computer systems. I learned that I really fill my tank when I help people understand a concept. Early on, I recognized I received good energy from being a small part of someone grasping something new. When I went into project management, I realized I was most successful in conversations. I would talk with teams about what they want to be doing, not knowing at the time I was using a strengths-based approach. I’ve honed this skill through coaching and positive psychology specialties. I love the flipping of the script of it—not having all the answers but being willing to ask the difficult questions. It’s changed the way I look at people and myself.
I’ve learned that the answers are within us, we just don’t often know how to navigate and uncover them ourselves. I went through part of my career feeling like I needed to know the answers. I think we’re taught from an early age that there’s a right and wrong answer and my life doesn’t work that way—it’s more of a both/and.
What are you working on now?
I am currently holding a cohort-based leadership program, working with 12 leaders mostly in the technology industry. I’m walking them through 7 sessions to build capacity so they can be more effective at work and home. I love working with IT groups because I get to teach about the power of language and conversations. They are taught skills and technical knowledge, then hit a wall because they haven’t been encouraged to learn the soft skills. I focus on how everything we do is with and through other people. Even if you are coding alone, you need to have the conversation about the need to fill, the problem to solve. Everything we do is with and through others. We need to learn to communicate to have effective, powerful conversations so that we get the results we say we want.
So what’s next for you then?
I plan to continue developing the SOAR program, so look for the next cohort on our website. I plan to do more group-centered work, moving groups through change, and group coaching. I sometimes think you just need a third party to help you see the things you can’t see.
Any final words for readers?
I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose lately as part of my positive psychology work. I was talking about purpose with my friend recently and she commented, “Your purpose is to empower others to find their true selves, learning from experience and leading with kindness, without being afraid to ask tough questions.” I’ve had jobs and I’ve had careers. I’m finally in my calling. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. It might look different in 5 years, but this is what I’m supposed to be doing now. I hope what you’re reading here helps you find the same!