Successful Leaders Need To Be Gardeners

We keep bringing in mechanics when what we need are gardeners.
-Peter Senge

When I introduce Senge’s quote during a leadership discussion, there is always a collective nod of affirmation from those in the room. For too long the business world looked to leaders to simply diagnose problems and fix them. If the problem didn’t get fixed, organizations would find another “mechanic” with seemingly better skills. This was true not only for entire companies, but also for smaller departments and work groups.

Today’s business environment is so different. With knowledge so easily accessible, leadership is no longer about “command and control” for organizations that want to be successful. It’s more about “engage and collaborate.” Individuals ranging from Robert Greenleaf in the 70's (The Servant As Leader) to Bill George today (Authentic Leadership) are among those who have sparked approaches to leadership that build on this new reality.

What’s an aspiring leader to do, then, to succeed in today’s organizations? If leadership is more about development (gardener) than fixing problems (mechanic), how can you give yourself the best chance to lead your team to better results? I see three primary ways:

Start with growing yourself
Develop a strong self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. Build a database of personal stories that help illuminate what motivates you as a leader and who you are as an individual. Those stories are critical to clearly conveying why others should want to follow your direction and move out of their comfort zones. As Young and Rubicam CEO Ann Fudge is quoted as saying, “The challenge is to understand ourselves well enough to discover where we can use our leadership gifts to serve others.”

Grow your engagement with your team
People bring their minds AND hearts to work with them. Showing them you have both is important. (tweet this) Don’t be afraid to show emotion and vulnerability (especially when you are wrong). Encourage input from others even when you know their thoughts will be very different than your own. Have the tough conversations and practice empathy when engaging in them. Keep a healthy sense of humility.

Most importantly, examine your authenticity with your team. As Bruna Martinuzzi writes, “A fallout of working for, or being associated with, an inauthentic leader is that this person robs us of our own authenticity as we tread carefully around them. We focus on what keeps us safe in our jobs.”

Grow others intentionally
s a leader in today’s organizations, you could be tasked with leading people from four generations. Add that to the different personalities, skills, and goals of your team members, and you can see why leadership can be so challenging. With everything that you have to get done, It’s easier to stereotype or generalize what your team needs.

 A few questions you can ask yourself to see how you’re doing growing each member of your team include:

  • Do I know their “story?"
  • Am I connecting growth opportunities to what is important to them?
  • Did my last conversation with __________________ (insert team member’s name) serve to encourage or discourage their desire for growth?
  • Am I communicating with this team member in the way that is most effective for them or the most convenient for me?

According to a survey conducted by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), U.S. businesses spend more than $170 billion on leadership-based curriculum. How is your company’s investment paying off? Is it producing “mechanics” or “gardeners?” If you want to take an innovative yet practical approach to growing the leaders in your organization, let’s start a conversation!