3 Keys to Cultivating Leadership

Cultivating Leadership

Gardening gloves aren’t for me. I like the feel of dirt under my nails, callouses formed from hours wielding a shovel, blisters as a reminder of hard labor.

Struggles and challenges cling under my nails.

Years of hard work and experience have formed callouses. Blisters occasionally develop due to my sensitivity, but they are welcome.

On Leadership and Preparation

This fall, as I prepared my garden beds for winter, it occurred to me that if I prepare myself as a leader similar to the way I prepare my garden, both will flourish.

In the fall, a garden requires attention if plants are to flourish in spring. Fertilizer should be applied for nourishment. Some plants may need to be transplanted to more suitable environments. Old growth must be cut back to make way for spring growth.

Tending to leadership growth in manners similar to tending to a garden allows leaders to bloom and grow.

3 Keys to Cultivating Leadership

1) Fertilize for Nourishment 

Growth of any type requires nourishment. Plants are fed with fertilizer and water. Leaders are nourished through positive interactions and learning. Together, positivity and learning increase satisfaction, engagement, and performance. Positive leadership and learning also energize and nourish leaders.

Throughout the summer, my neighbor’s flowers are profuse with color and blooms.

Her secret? Fertilize every week, water every day.

Fertilization Story

Recently a student complained, “My boss always tells me what I do wrong and never helps me improve.” He was wilting under a negative, constrained management approach.

  • At my recommendation he sat down with his boss and listened to his concerns.
  • He offered encouragement together they brainstormed ways to overcome the challenges.
  • The student acted as a leader, established a positive learning relationship with his boss.

This ultimately created a healthy work environment.

Whether in a garden or as a leader, the more nourishment provided, the more vivid and long-lasting the blooms.

2) Transplant to Favorable Environments 

This fall I transplanted plants that had failed to thrive. I moved plants from one part of the yard to another, aware that the plants could flourish in a different environment.

Transplant Story

As I coached a disheartened client, I thought of these plants. After her company was acquired, the organizational culture changed. Her job stagnated, and this former top performer was no longer motivated to achieve. She needed to transplant herself.

Leaders, like plants, thrive in different types of environments.

Plants require different amounts of sunlight and types of soil. Leaders thrive different types of organizational cultures and structures, although it is a challenge to change jobs, teams, or organizations.

To stay vibrant and continue to grow leaders must be willing to transplant themselves into new challenges.

3) Prune Spent Blooms 

Plants pruned of old growth flourish in the next growing season. In the same way, leaders should drop their focus on some skill sets in order to focus on new areas of expertise in order to grow.

Pruning Story

Recently, an executive I was coaching needed to develop a new type of leadership expertise when he was promoted from COO to CEO. Success in his new leadership role meant turning attention away from his subject-specific knowledge of operations that had distinguished his career.

Instead he needed to develop a strategically focused expertise. As the CEO pruned back his operational focus, a brighter, bolder strategic focus grew in its place.

Just as plants must be pruned of old blooms, so too must leaders cut back on past areas of focus and embrace new skills and expertise in order to flourish.

As winter thaws, well-tended gardens spring to life. Vibrant, long-lasting blooms engulf plants that have been nourished, transplanted, and pruned.

People and plants alike must be nourished if they are to thrive.

A transplant may be required to maintain an environment favorable for continued growth. Leaders and gardeners alike must cut back the deadwood in order to make way for new growth.

Leaders can apply techniques that sustain and nurture gardens to their leadership development in order to achieve vibrant, long-lasting leadership success.

So, how have nourishing, transplanting, and pruning affected your leadership effectiveness? What other tips do you recommend to strengthen leadership skills? Have you gained leadership insights from your favorite hobbies and activities? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Vicki Whiting, MBA, Ph.D.
Dr. Vicki Whiting is Leadership Professor, Sample Fellow &  Award Winning Author
She serves by awakening the Power of Mentorship, Advocacy & Listening in Leaders
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Book | Skype: profwhiting

Image Sources: wishboneebikes.com.au

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