Seye is a Tech Marketing Leader and Creative Writer.
Many people have defined leadership, and many say it changes based on the situation. They say styles of leadership change depending on the challenge you are trying to solve. This theory allows you to categorize leaders into four groups based on the situation: leaders who tell you what to do, leaders who suggest what to do, leaders who show you what to do and leaders who encourage you to do what you want to do. I’d say my definition of a leader is someone who guides others to get the job done.
I’ve seen many people suggest that a great leader needs to adapt their leadership skills to the situation they are in. This is true; however, I have found that the best leaders are not people who swing between these leadership styles based on the situation. Rather, the best leaders I know are the people who adapt their style to the people they lead. Ultimately, leaders are supposed to manage people to enable them to handle the situation. So if the responsibility of a leader is to their people first, then leadership at its best is exemplified when a leader can relate to the individuals on the team based on who they are and how they work best.
The best leaders are like gardeners who nurture plants to grow in whatever conditions they find themselves. If it’s sunny, they provide cover. If it’s windy, they provide a shield. If it’s rainy, they provide drainage and if it’s dry, they provide water. The goal is to tend to the plants so they can grow and produce the desired results: fruits, flowers or grass.
If the best leaders are like gardeners, what characteristics can we learn from the green thumbs around us that we can translate into the workplace to see our employees bloom?
If you ever want to grow anything successfully, the first thing you should do is become knowledgeable. You should learn everything there is to learn about the plant: the type of soil it grows in, the amount of sunlight or water it requires, and even the best place in the house to put the plant. Great leaders are knowledgeable. They know their market. They learn about their environment. They learn about the people they are entrusted with. Leadership at its best requires continuous learning. You should be able to foresee storms ahead to protect what’s in your care by reading the trends to predict market changes. Learn about the uniqueness of your team to know where in the organization to place them so they can thrive based on their skills and experiences. I believe great leaders take their time to learn about their business and its people to ensure they have the right fits internally and anticipate external changes that could throw a wrench into the wheel of their business.
There is no place for indifference in authentic leadership. You should be empathetic. It also helps if you can feel what your team feels. You need to understand the unique situations the people entrusted to you are in. Being aloof and barking orders may work quickly, but it likely won’t build loyalty and commitment over time. If you want the best from your people, you should stop to listen. What’s giving your employees a hard time, and how can you help? What stumbling blocks are in the way of their progress, and how can you remove them? Asking people to suck it up usually won’t cut it in the long run. Great leaders listen to unspoken words and feel the pain of their people, and great leaders take the time to understand and help people become more productive in life and business.
There is arguably nothing more disappointing than a leader who throws their employees under the bus. You lose all trust in them when you don’t feel supported and protected. Great leaders stand up for their team. They correct when necessary and discipline appropriately so the team can grow. Making mistakes helps people grow, learn and become better. As a leader, you shouldn’t just come down with the hammer every time someone makes a mistake. It would help if you created an environment where your team feels at ease to innovate, fail, learn and ultimately succeed. If your team can’t trust you to protect them when they genuinely make a mistake, then forget about hiring an innovation consultant. Your people will not likely be willing to take risks. As a leader, you should create an atmosphere of ease and creativity that’s fostered by trust in your ability to stand by your team — no matter what.
My favorite characteristic of a leader is someone who celebrates the successes of their team. Have you seen the face of the gardener when their flowers are in full bloom? It is filled with pride and joy in what they’ve accomplished with their garden. While you should be proud of what your team has done under your supervision, you should never overshadow your team’s achievements. Celebrate their work and announce their accomplishments to the world with pride. Name the people who worked on a project. Allow the group to celebrate together. No one likes a leader who takes credit for what others did or plays down something noteworthy because of their insecurities. Great leaders celebrate their teams and allow them to bloom beautifully under their care.
Leadership at its best is like great gardening. A great leader is someone who is knowledgeable about their business and people; someone who is empathetic to the team’s pain points and works to remove the challenges in their way; someone who stands up for their team and creates an environment that supports innovation; and someone who allows their team to shine and stands back to allow them to come to full bloom. If you want to exemplify outstanding leadership, spend some time watching a great gardener. You could pick up a thing or two about grooming high-performing teams.