by Julie Standfield
I am sitting indoors with the fan on full blast, drinking iced water in an attempt to keep cool as I work from home. As I sit, I’m looking out at my garden; it’s glorious sunshine outside and already 28 degrees. It’s June, approaching the height of summer, and the plants are blooming. The garden is not huge but it’s big enough, with grass and flower beds (quite a lot of flower beds) a fruit and vegetable patch, some more flower beds and a stream running along the back of it. It’s very picturesque, very “Hampshire countryside” and I know I’m very lucky to have it to look after. No matter how many hours a week I spend in the garden – cutting grass, snipping shrubs, dead heading roses, watering, weeding (oh the endless weeding!) – there is always something I have missed, something I only ever spot when I finally sit down in it with a glass of wine, intending to relax and reap the rewards of my hard work! It might be a stray growth of nettles, or a weed that was flying under the radar, or a leaf I have missed with the hedge trimmer. The point is, that it’s never ‘perfect’. There’s always something that needs maintaining. It’s an ongoing labour of love, especially for a self-confessed perfectionist.
Actually, it’s a bit like leading a team.
I have worked with some amazing leaders, people who care deeply about the individuals in their team, the team as a unit and the results they achieve. Leaders who work a lot of hours to make sure that everything is working smoothly, people are engaged, customers are happy, quality standards are being achieved. Leaders who care.
Leaders who spend a lot of time maintaining their team are a bit like me with my garden. They don’t relax and feel satisfied with themselves when things look good on the surface, when their results look good, when their people seem motivated and happy. They are always striving for perfection, maintaining every individual, every process and project, every different section. These leaders know that the part of the team that seems to be able to self-maintain mustn’t be left untended and unnoticed, as that will be the one unexpected place that suddenly develops a rash of weeds overnight and needs urgent attention.
This is the responsibility of a leader – and if you love leading people, it’s a labour of love.
Making sure that your low performers are directed and supported to improve, making sure your high performers are given the opportunities to learn and shine and stay engaged, and remembering that your average performers need attention, recognition and encouragement to help move them towards the top of their game – it’s all part of maintaining your ‘garden’.
Don’t water your plants? They’ll die. If you don’t spend time developing your team, they’ll under-perform, disengage and some will leave.
Can’t be bothered to weed? Weeds will steal nutrients from your plants and the flower bed will soon look untidy. If you don’t weed out poor behaviours and attitudes within your team, they will grow, infect other people and what was once a small tough conversation turns into a much bigger issue to resolve.
Don’t keep an eye on plants passing their season and have a line of new plants growing in the greenhouse? You’ll wake up one day and realise that you need to go to the garden centre and spend much more money than necessary in order to replenish the garden. If you don’t keep an eye on your team needing career development and challenges, they’ll do it themselves. Some will manage their career away from your business or team, some will just wither and under-perform – and you might end up with a huge recruitment bill replacing people (which could’ve been avoided by having a good succession plan in place).
Daily maintenance, having a good plan, taking the time to check, review, nourish and replenish is the way to go – both as a gardener and a leader. A little bit of investment every day will ensure that you know what’s going on, what needs attention and what needs to be planned for. And it’s OK that your garden – and your team – will never be perfect. There’s no such thing. It’s just your vision of how things would be in an ideal world. As long as you’re clear on your vision for perfect and keep working towards achieving it, you’re being a good gardener.
I feel a spot of weeding coming on…