The more I strive to achieve success with my gardening efforts ( it’s been a work in progress I must admit) the more powerful the leadership lessons learned. Take the act of pruning as an example of one such lesson. I used to subscribe to the belief that as long as I provided water and proper amount of sunshine-my plants will naturally do well. Actually they do okay, but I have since discovered that if I want my plants to give me better blooms and more fruit, to stay healthy and beautiful or train new plants to grow into their full potential- then I better get out the pruning shears!
In the gardening world proper pruning not only improves shrubs and trees in many important ways- but the opposite is true; improper pruning can be more harmful than no pruning at all. Take for example a coaching session I recently had with a client. He is currently managing two senior level positions. One of the positions requires him to be out in the field alongside his direct reports, providing leadership, development and of course getting his hands dirty at times too- he loves this job. The other senior level position is the opposite. In the other position, he would be performing more administrative roles which would translate into more time in the office behind a desk and less if any at all, out in the fields- getting his hands dirty.
He is smart enough to know how to maintain his level of satisfaction and sense of purpose and meaning regarding his career. He shared that he learned a long time ago not to take a position because of the money and or the title. He had done the requisite pruning of his values where his career is concerned- making the decision about these two positions is reasonably easy for this client.
Not so for another client. She is still learning the principles of pruning where her career is concerned. She was recently promoted as a middle level manager 2 years ago and again this year as a director. This client struggles with how to produce more or better blooms and/or fruits in her direct reports. She struggles with knowing how to develop or maintain desired outcomes- in the gardening world this is equivalent to achieving desired size or appearance for plants. The challenge doesn’t end here for this client, she struggles to develop new and current direct reports to encourage them to grow in a balanced way that ensures they show up eager to give their best.
When asked about current situation the response was one that demonstrated unlike the first client, she had not done the requisite pruning of her values. To move this client forward will require her getting clear on the values she is using to lead her and consequently her readiness to serve her organization at this level. This will be a process that takes some time as it will involve multiple levels of leadership development with particular emphasis on emotional intelligence. Different types of pruning shears will be used with this leader.
So how about those employees without formal titles? How do leaders apply the principles of pruning to them? Same approach as with those employees with titles- got to get clear on the values that are driving them. There are those employees as was the case in elementary school-it’s best not to have them work closely with each other. Their growth requires the application of two key pruning principles:
- If they are older employees, been in the organization since it’s inception, likely suffering from neglect, or the mind-numbing sameness of the status quo. This kind of employee needs pruning that is designed to rejuvenate. They need pruning in the form of coaching that helps them remove old habits and or ideas that overcrowd their true potential and prevent them from staying relevant by generating new and vibrant ideas.
- If they are young employees, new to the organization, full of ideas and hope, not clear on the direction they want to go in the organization, they too need pruning but in a different form. They need pruning in the form of coaching that is designed to help train them to grow to their full potential, to remain bold and confident in challenging the process yet not afraid to seek mentoring and training to help them grow in a balanced and meaningful way.
Bottom line is, to really develop employees, organizations may want to take a page out of the gardener’s book on pruning. Following the principal reasons for pruning will save many an organization and its leaders headaches, wasted time, money and most important of all miss out on the potential of employees to produce great blooms and fruits.
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