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UM Beautification Guru Shares Leadership Tips In New Book

Jeff McManus, UM director of landscaping, airport and golf operations, has compiled a wealth of lessons he learned as head caretaker of the ‘Most Beautiful Campus in America’ into a new book on leadership. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Jeff McManus, UM director of landscape, airport and golf operations, has published a new book titled “Growing Weeders Into Leaders.” It’s not another gardening tome, but rather a collection of “leadership lessons from the ground level.”

The man in charge of keeping the “Most Beautiful Campus in America” looking photogenic is also an authority on leadership, frequently providing keynote addresses and professional training on the subject. His latest book, published by Morgan James, features a foreword by Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat, who hired McManus at Ole Miss 17 years ago.
McManus said the book is intended to be an inspirational guide.
“My hope is those who finish the book will have two take-aways,” McManus said. “One: Greatness, whether it be personal or professional/institutional, is a process. It takes time. It takes communication and commitment. Greatness is accessible to us all.
“Two: The team of front-line workers at Ole Miss finds and expresses their greatness daily; so can we all.”
The book is his second release. In 2015, he published “Pruning Like a Pro” (CreateSpace).
McManus has been the mastermind for keeping the Oxford campus – more than 1,500 acres, including the Ole Miss Golf Course – looking gorgeous. Those beautification efforts have been nationally recognized four times during his tenure, including being named Most Beautiful Campus by the Princeton Review, Professional Grounds Management Society and Newsweek.
Last year, McManus won the Professional Grounds Management Society’s President’s Award and was named the Auburn University Department of Horticulture’s outstanding alumnus for 2016.
Khayat hired McManus following a national search to find the best landscape manager in the business to turn UM into a five-star property. McManus had made a name for himself after leading landscape efforts at two large resorts in Florida, Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando and Turnberry Isle Resort and Club in North Miami.
The former chancellor has said McManus “changed the landscape culture and the general culture in the local community of Oxford, Mississippi, in a very positive way.” McManus challenged his staff to develop the best-landscaped campus in the country and got them new uniforms and new equipment to make their jobs easier.
“He challenged his staff to ‘own’ the campus,” Khayat said. “He created teams such as ‘delta force,’ ‘all stars,’ the rough riders’ and provided motivational information and guidance.
“He coined the phrase ‘weeders into leaders.’ The staff bought in and became highly respected … and gained self-respect.”
Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter also lauds McManus’ authority on leadership in the book’s endorsements section.
“Far more than a dry collection of management tips, ‘Growing Weeders Into Leaders’ is filled with personal experiences and insights aimed at empowering employees and helping them unleash their own creativity and drive,” Vitter said. “No matter what business you’re in, Jeff can help your team reach its full potential.”

By Michael Newsom
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