Being a leader today is challenging. There is a lot of pressure from your organization to perform with minimal resources. So how do you become a more effective leader without burning out from the stress?
I believe it comes down to having the right attitude, the same attitude that all successful gardeners have. I think that being a great leader is like being a great gardener. They can both be rewarding pursuits with hard work involved and a long gap between effort and result. They can also both be exhausting if you don’t following some basic principles.
My Workplace Gardening philosophy is based on 5 principles that can help anyone to become a more effective leader:
- Help teams grow organicallyA leader can’t build a team, they need to let it grow organically. The old model of building a great team is outdated but many leaders persist with it because they find it easier dealing with inanimate objects than dealing with people. Building involves taking materials and logically turning them into something productive. You can determine in advance what you want to achieve and, with the right skills and equipment, reproduce an exact replica of a blueprint. People aren’t like that. So stop treating them like pieces of wood that can be built into a structure and start treating them like living beings that will naturally grow if given the right conditions.Here are my three tips for helping your team grown organically:
- Understand how teams form
- Recognize what helps or hinders the process
- Eliminate the barriers that prevent it from happening naturally
- Work with the nature of peopleYou can’t change the nature of a plant. They are all destined to grow in a particular way. The gardener who attempts to make a plant go against its natural tendencies will eventually fail and be left with a plant that is potentially damaged beyond repair.
Too many leaders seem to ignore the “laws of nature” concerning their team members, attempting to change the nature of their people rather than work with it. They risk creating people who don’t excel in either their natural talents or their imposed skills. They become damaged by the experience and many never fully recover.
Learn more about the nature of your people by:
- Observing their behavior
- Asking them about their preferences
- Experimenting to find out what works
- Let people grow at their own paceNot everyone on your team is going to grow at the same pace. It is actually a good thing to have people in all stages of development. It gives you an ongoing supply of people for roles. It ensures people don’t get bored and that you don’t ask people to take on a role before they are ready.
Just like plants, this doesn’t indicate there is something wrong with them. It simply means they are different. The end result of this slower pace of growth might actually be a far more productive team member, someone who is able to sustain that growth in the long term rather than just give an impressive but unsustainable performance.
Three keys to success in this area are:
- Be patient
- Analyze what works and what doesn’t
- Customize the experience for them
- Create an environment where everyone can thriveThe best gardens are the ones where all the plants are thriving not just a few. This is because the gardener has thought about how to create an environment that caters for the needs of a wide range of plants.
When I am talking about your team I am comparing it to a typical suburban garden not a commercial growing operation that resembles a factory. Most teams today are not production lines where everyone does the same role and must work at the same pace. They typical work team is full of individuals who represent a range of skill sets and personality types. You need to create an environment that works for all of them not just some.
To create that environment:
- Remove the one size fits all approach in your thinking
- Reward all types of work
- Recognize the contribution of all
- Embrace the cycle of changeGardeners know that plants are always growing or dying and that without change the cycle of life would not continue. Change to the gardener is a sign that something is happening. Whether that is new life or the end of life, they are ready to embrace whatever opportunity it presents.
Leaders need to learn to embrace change too. The idea that you can get your team in place, with everyone knowing their job and everything running smoothly is wonderful in theory but rarely possible in practice. There are just too many factors outside your control for this to happen. Instead of frustrating yourself, hoping that change will soon be finished, learn to embrace it for what it is: a natural part of the work life cycle.
You can embrace the cycle of change by:
- Being proactive rather than reactive
- Thinking long term not just short term
- Focus on the big picture rather than only the details
So as go about your role as a leader, think about how you can adopt these 5 workplace gardening attitudes and see what difference it makes to your results… and your stress levels!
Karen Schmidt from Let’s Grow! is the Workplace Gardener. She helps frontline managers grow into frontline leaders using her workplace gardening philosophy. During the process people become energized, excited and empowered to find ways to germinate the skills that lie dormant in their team.
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