The Soil of Leadership: Cultivating the Conditions for Transformation

Britt Yamamoto

Publisher: Amplify Publishing Pages: 248 Price: (hardcover) $28.00 ISBN: 9798891380554 Reviewed: June, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Dr. Britt Yamamoto, associate professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health, has also founded international leadership organizations. The impetus for this leadership book was the time he spent on a sustainable Japanese farm.

A fourth-generation Japanese American, or yonsei, Yamamoto was born in Japan but had lived in the U.S. since before his first birthday. Still, he struggled with his sense of identity in a predominantly white, southern California community. In college, he planned on becoming a professor of Asian American studies. But when he saw a promotion for a work/study position on a sustainable farm in Japan, his life’s focus changed.

Taking the position, he became fascinated by farming and intoxicated by soil. He details his journey from “dirt to soil”: from seeing dirt as something inert and dusty to something fecund. In this rich loam, he found a metaphor that — among other farming references— drives the book

What follows wants badly to be a memoir, but Yamamoto contrives to turn it into a leadership guide. He tells stories of both his time in farming and leadership, pausing occasionally to include questions for self-reflection connecting farming lessons to the workplace; quotes from global leaders; and line-drawings of plants and earth.

Yamamoto’s boss on the work-study farm, Dr. Takekuma, explained to him that “time + space + relationships lead to healthy soil on a sustainable farm,” and this holistic view informs his gentle leadership advice: that the work of leaders is not to “coerce and influence” but to “inspire and enact connection”; that perception determines what is a desirable plant or weed; that devotion to what he dubs Perennial Well-Being Practice—finding an activity “that positively contributes to and restores your overall sense of well-being”—leads to a healthier leader and life.

There isn’t enough advice here to turn a memoir into a fully fleshed guidebook. Still, Yamamoto’s earnestness is appealing and his push for a kinder, gentler workplace is surely welcome.

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