At this time of year, there are some people who are eagerly planning their gardens, waiting for the last frost to pass so that they can transplant tender seedlings outside, prepare the soil, and start planting in earnest.
I was thinking about this the other day, while eagerly planning my own garden. I had to start first with knowing what kind of crops I wanted to grow. Based on this information, I could determine how much sun and shade the plants required, what the quality of the soil and amount of drainage was that was needed, which plants would boost or deter crop yields, and whether I could start seedlings inside or had to plant them in place.
As all of this was going through my mind, I couldn’t help but notice that the same things apply to leaders.
- While gardeners must know what crops they want to grow, leaders must have a goal in mind. They have to know their purpose in order to share that with others in their team. Just as a gardener can’t plant corn seeds hoping for tomatoes, leaders can’t bring together a team of business analysts when they need engineers.
- Once the leader has clearly defined a goal or set or goals, they must be clear about the level of direct involvement that will enable the team to best reach those goals. How much light or shade is needed or, better yet, how much guidance and direction do team members need as opposed to how much freedom they require?
- At the same time, the leader must balance the environmental factors that will affect their team. How much will team members need to be educated to reach the goal? Is knowledge available via osmosis (on-the-job training) or does it need to be supplemented in other ways?
- Companion gardeners know that certain plants release nutrients into the soil that other plants require to thrive. For instance, beans release nitrogen into the soil that corn adores, and beans love to climb up the strong and healthy corn stalks that result. By planting the two crops together, both plants yield more produce. Add some squash in the mix as a ground cover to minimize weeds that would otherwise choke out the beans and corn, and you have an ideal growing situation for all three plants. By the same token, leaders must understand the unique needs of their team members, and how best to combine individuals to strengthen those around them.
- Leaders must also understand the sensitivities of their followers. Some individuals thrive on change and can be moved about frequently. Other people like to grow deep roots, and are happiest when they can stay in one place, doing one thing, for long periods of time. If a leader frequently changes the expectation, location, or direction of individuals who are deep-rooted, the results will be underwhelming.
Forrest Gump once shared that his mama told him “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I think that “Great leaders are like avid gardeners. They know what crops they intend to grow, and plan accordingly.”
Have you taken the time necessary to grow your team properly? Do you know the needs of the individuals in your team? Are you leveraging the strengths of some of your followers to supplement the weaknesses of others? Have you determined how to get the best yield out of the followers you do have? And when your team doesn’t produce the way you expect them to, do you take the time to understand the factors that caused the failure so that you can address the issue next time?