Happy Saturday. It’s day 18 of our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course.
We’re now leaning heavily toward a discussion about elevating our leadership in order to establish a high-performance culture inside our organizations. Before we dive more deeply into that I think we need to make a distinction between management and leadership.
We lead people.
We manage the work.
Both are necessary. I put leadership first because the people are doing the work. We all rely on the employees to each do the work for which they’re responsible. Fixate on the task instead of the person and pretty soon you’ll have a task that needs to be done, but nobody is available to do the task. It’s urgent that we get busy growing people.
As we think about leading people and managing the work I’m going to use a garden as my metaphor for growing people. Great leaders tend the garden well.
High-performing cultures are the best gardens in which to grow people and produce better work. If it were easy, everybody would do it. Fact is, most organizations don’t commit to it because it’s not how they see the world. Largely, they see the world and their workforce as things to exploit for higher profits. That’s why there’s far more talk than action when it comes to high-performance environments. It’s also why publicly traded companies have grossly escalated CEO pay in the past 20 years. Greed tempts us all. And it ruins many organizations from achieving stellar results – both in building organization (developing people) and in building a business (growing revenues and profitable at a sustainable/predictable rate).
Planting a garden, and tending it is hard work. But consider the payoff.
You plant your favorite fruits and vegetables. You make sure conditions are ideal to produce the harvest you want. Daily you watch over it, protect it, and nourish it. In time, you’re able to pick and enjoy all your favorite things. And if you continue to take care of the garden, you’ll be able to enjoy it year after year.
People aren’t plants, but the principles are similar. We all need an environment in which to grow. We all need protection from the things that would destroy us, or stunt us. We all need to be nourished so we can develop fully into being our best.
Because the workplace is filled with other people fulfilling many other roles, and since we don’t live or work in solitary confinement, then how we interact with one another forms the environment in which we must work. Toxic is how some people describe their work environment. Toxicity might be a result of tyrannical leadership. It might be leadership indifference. It might be that nobody trusts anybody. It may be that nobody has candid, honest conversations. It could be pure ineptness. Many things can make a work environment toxic. This much is true, nobody grows a great garden in toxic soil. You won’t grow great people in a toxic setting at work either. The good ones will hit the eject button to get away before much damage is done to their life or career. The bad ones will linger, contributing to even greater toxicity.
Till the soil. Turn it over. Weed it. Make sure it’s ready to plant the seeds of what you most want to grow. And be aware that the soil for growing greatness is pretty terrific for growing all kinds of weeds, too. Left alone, the weeds will thrive in the soil you prepare. Leadership isn’t for the wimps unwilling to withstand the rigors of pulling weeds.
Plant what you want to grow. Look for and hire people who are ideally what you want – or what you know you can help them become. Not because you’re going to impose your will, but because you know they’re not yet who they most want to be – but you know they’re dedicated to putting in the work necessary to become better! Feed and water them regularly. It’s your number one job. Serve them well. Don’t be distracted into thinking your work is about something else. Most of all, don’t get sucked into thinking it’s all about you. It’s not. It’s about them.
Great players on your team will thrive when you surround them with other great players. Likewise, they’ll grow increasingly frustrated if you surround them with weeds (unproductive players). Don’t make your stars live in an environment where they’re surrounded by thorn bushes and weeds. Get rid of the thorn bushes and weeds as soon as possible. The moment you realize they’re undesirable elements in the garden, take swift action to uproot them. Few things will kill your environment faster.
Protect your team from predators. Some may be internal, but some may be external. Be on guard. Be prepared to fend off anybody or anything that might get in the way of your employees and their ability to perform well. Your service, as a leader, is to influence and do for your people what they may be unable to do for themselves. You are not there to do their job for them. Or to rob them of the opportunities for growth, development, and improvement. You certainly aren’t there to enable them to behave or perform poorly. Set your expectations high – both for yourself and your team. Then get busy doing everything in your power to help your team meet or exceed them.
Leading people is all about finding out what they need to get to the next level of high performance. It’s about your commitment and willingness to remove roadblocks, to knock down speed bumps, to provide the necessary resources, to fend off any obstacles that might stand in their way — so together you can all achieve more.
You must be THE person people can trust and look to for the help necessary. Otherwise, your leadership is failed. And you’ve become an impediment, not a service.
Too many bosses (aka leaders) want to blame the people for failing to grow or improve when they’ve neglected to do those same things in their own life. And they’ve failed to tend the soil by not providing an environment in which people are even able to grow. “Deadman walking” isn’t simply a description of a prison inmate walking to the execution chamber. It’s also an apt description for too many people who just have yet to find a garden in which they can thrive and flourish. Create a place like that and see if you don’t find yourself attracting and retaining more people able to perform at much higher levels.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!