To Leaders: Cultivate Your People
By Pearl Mattenson, Director, Rosov Consulting
As you think about the type of leader you are or hope to become- how often have you thought of yourself as a cultivator? Now that it is summer time and you may find yourself in a roof top, back yard or community garden, this metaphor might be particularly resonant. Even if you never let dirt run through your fingers, you can find value in thinking about how to create the ground conditions that will help your staff to thrive.
I recently came across a blog post by Diego Rodrigues, a partner at IDEO, in which he outlines 21 innovation principles. Behold, in principle #12 he compares leadership to cultivation. Cultivators of actual gardens resist the temptation to keep digging up the seeds to check on progress, and are satisfied with supplying needed resources like food and water. Similarly, leaders can rely on their people to let them know what they need to thrive and to create. The leaders can then make it their business to supply them with those needs.
What would it feel like to truly trust your people, and let them tell you how to serve them? I offer a few ground rules for moving in this direction and some additional reading if this idea feels like one you want to explore further:
1) Get to know your people
A good gardener tests the soil and learns about the seeds she plants. A gardener has a relationship with her garden. What is the nature of your relationships at work? If it is limited to one or two dimensions, you may need to deepen your understanding. Summer can be a good time to schedule informal meetings to get to know your staff more deeply—and for them to know you more deeply as well.
2) Scan the environment for opportunity
A gardener has to work with nature: bees, rain, wind, rodents. What internal and external factors can you harness to benefit your people? What do you need to do protect them so they can work to their full potential? What do you need to expose them to? As you think about your professional development goals for your faculty and administrative team, think beyond pedagogy. What are the social/emotional skills that might serve your people to navigate tricky situations with parents, board members or other stakeholders?
3) Plan for surprise
Even when you follow all the rules, some plants surprise you with unexpected colors, growth patterns and hardiness. Others fail to thrive despite your best efforts. When you allow for your people to surprise you, you pave the way for a good laugh, and a healthy dose of humility. In contrast, when there is no room for surprise, there is no room for failure—and that is a hard place for anyone to be. Have you created an environment in which experimentation- in all its messiness- is welcome?
Some additional reading:
How To Cultivate Engaged Employees (Harvard Business Review)