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Bringing Out The Best In Those You Lead

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Of all the seasons of the year, summer is without question my favourite. From attending the various outdoor festivals that Montreal has become renowned for, to the annual summer vacation breaks with my family, there’s no question that summer is a time for renewal and rejuvenation.

Of course, renewal and rejuvenation is something that summer has also brought to my garden which, after several years of trying to grow various flowers and shrubs, is finally the kind of garden I had hoped to grow since we moved into our house many years ago.

The process of testing out what plants work best where, which ones failed and why, and how to replicate the past season’s growth successes brought to mind parallels in how organizations and their leaders also have to learn to adapt and evolve in light of changing conditions in order to successfully achieve their shared purpose.

To that end, I’d like to share these three steps leaders should take to bring out the best in their employees in order to drive the collective success of their organization.

1. Connect the changes you make with the vision you have for your organization
When I first started to build our garden, one of the things I had to learn along the way was adapting my vision for what I wanted to grow with the reality of what grew best in my garden. In some areas, low-light plants were needed; in others, pest resistant plants were the best to grow.

Naturally, this lead to a lot of trial-and-error in choosing plants for the garden, which also meant a lot of money wasted in those first years. As a gardener, I was willing to accept these losses, but for my wife whose not a gardener, this was money that could’ve been spent on other areas of the house.

After a few summers of some successes and more failures, my wife was understandably getting frustrated with the amount of money being wasted on plants that lasted for a few short weeks. As much as she wanted to make improvements to beautify our home, she began to feel our money would be better suited to other measures.

In order to get her on board with my vision for what I wanted to create around our home, I realized I needed to invest in more of the plants that were doing well to help her see how buying similar types would ensure repeated success going forward.

Sure enough, in time as our gardens began to fill year after year with the blooms of different varieties of the same kind of plants, she began to understand what I was trying to create, and she became more willing to accept the purchase of different plants that would accentuate the others.

Similarly, when looking at implementing changes in your organization, it’s important to make an effort to look at how these changes would be perceived by those you lead so you can frame them in the context of your shared vision. In putting forth such changes, it’s not enough for us to rely on our positional authority or expertise to get people on board with the initiatives we want to push forward.

Instead, we need to help them to see the connection between what it is we want to achieve and how these changes will help us to attain it. In so doing it will become easier for your employees to get on board with your plans because they can now better appreciate how these changes will help them to achieve their shared goals.

2. Provide resources and workplace conditions that will encourage employee growth
Last year, one of my neighbours came by while I was removing spent flowers from one of my perennials to ask me about this bright, flowering bush that every year seemed to grow more and more blooms. When I told him what type of plant it was, he remarked that he had once tried to grow it in his garden but never got it to bloom as well as mine.

When he asked me if there was some trick to how I got mine to grow so well, I told him how I fed the plant an acidifying fertilizer periodically during the summer, while also pruning it at times to make sure the plant had strong stalks. My neighbour replied that this seemed to be a lot of work and that he’d settle for enjoying my plant from his house across the street.

His reaction wasn’t too surprising for me as the only time he worked on his garden was in early spring when many of us are eager to see the detritus of winter replaced by the green foliage of spring. It was clear that he was hoping that he could replicate my success if it was something that would require minimal effort on his part as he preferred to spend his time on other things.

In recalling this conversation with my neighbour, I’m reminded of some leaders I’ve spoken to following some of the talks I’ve given this year where they ask me how they could encourage their employees to bring their best to the work they do. Invariably, when I start pointing out the long view of how to approach this question, they lose interest stating how they are far too busy to spend time on such initiatives and that their employees will ‘just have to make do with what they got’.

Thankfully, these leaders are a minority. However, we all face the current reality of grappling with increasing demands on our time, energy, and resources – a fact that makes it easier for us to pull back on what we commit to providing to our employees.

And yet, if we truly want to bring out the best in those we lead and make our organization a successful, thriving place to work, we need to recognize that this is a process that takes time and effort on our part. We have to acknowledge our obligation to provide our employees with a workplace environment that supports their growth so they can become more valued members in our organization.

3. Make sure all employees have opportunities to contribute to your shared purpose
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about developing my garden landscape was learning how to combine various plant types together to create an aesthetically pleasing look as it’s not as easy as one would think.

Generally, the tendency when one visits a plant nursery is to pick those plants that have the kinds of blooms and foliage you’d like, and which have the proper light conditions that match your garden’s daily sun exposure.

And yet, what I’ve come to learn over time is that not all plants get along together well, as some can grow a lot faster than others, soon crowding out nearby plants. Then there’s the issue of planting too many showy and colourful plants. Again, it’s natural for many of us to prefer planting flowers with vibrant, colourful blooms. But if that’s all we plant in our garden, the end result invariably leads to a rather homogeneous look and not that eye-catching garden effect we had hoped to create.

Over the past few years, I looked at some of the gardens around my neighbourhood that had that garden landscaping effect I was hoping to create and I noticed how many of them were more subdued in their use of showy plants, even though their gardens were far from being sparse or empty.

In looking at these beautiful gardens, I realized that the reason why they worked is because the person who planted it understood how to get the various plants to work in concert – where some served to provide that green, foliage effect that helped to accentuate the showy, vibrant blooms of various plants placed throughout their garden.

In terms of today’s organizations, this tendency is mirrored in how many leaders focus on supporting the ‘key talent’ within their workforce as their contributions tend to garner more attention and notoriety both within and outside the organization.

And yet, if we are to ensure the collective success and long-term viability of our organization, we can’t tie our accomplishments to the efforts of a select number of employees. Rather, our ability to succeed and thrive is dependent on the efforts of each member in our organization [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

Just like in those beautiful gardens we all admire and enjoy, although it might be the key talent in your organization that grabs most of the attention, it’s only within the context of the larger picture, and the contributions of those around them that they were able to attain these achievements.

That’s why it’s important that every employee see and understand the value of their contributions; of its role in helping your organization to succeed, as well as providing them with some sense of meaning and purpose in what they do.

Ultimately, whether it’s a garden or an organization, both consist of living organisms that have different needs and goals. By recognizing and understanding those differences, leaders can ensure that they not only guide their organization towards a successful outcome, but that they’re also able to bring out the best in those they lead.

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