There’s an old parable about a man who planted seeds.
He tossed some of the seeds onto rocky ground. Little plants peeped out of the ground, but because there wasn’t much soil, they died away without much growth.
He tossed other seeds on the ground that was covered with thorns. But the seeds couldn’t settle into any dirt because the thorns choked them out.
He then tossed some seeds on ground that was hardened because it was a pathway. These seeds simply lay on top of the hard ground, which made it easy for the birds to come and feast on them.
Finally, the man tossed some seeds on good soil that was soft, watered and full of nutrients needed for growth. The seeds sprouted and produced a sun-kissed harvest. Some of it was thirty-, sixty- and one-hundred times greater than what was planted!
The moral of the story? It’s important to establish the right environment for growth.
Seeds and people
So, what does this have to do with leadership and organizations?
The man in the parable is every person leading a team or organization today. And the seeds are the people on that team. The environment in which they work must possess the right qualities for them to develop, grow and produce results.
Consider the rocky ground as an environment where trust doesn’t exist. Team members are in a protective mode, resistant to believing in promises of a better future. They don’t share thoughts and feelings with each other. They know little about one another, avoid discussion in meetings and cover up their weaknesses. Their behavior is self-centered, may violate desired values and ethics, and doesn’t support the team.
Consider the hard ground as an environment where conflict isn’t managed well. There are continual struggles over scarce resources, different goals and priorities, issues of status and interpersonal and process problems. Left unaddressed, they fester, bubble up and create confusion that decreases productivity and progress. Finger-pointing and blame are the norms as are reluctance to compromise and collaborate.
Consider the thorny ground as an environment where a lack of commitment exists. People don’t agree on priorities, strategies and actions to be taken. They discuss the same topics repeatedly. They don’t show up or follow through when they say they will. Decisions change regularly, and people aren’t willing to go the extra mile to get the desired results.
Consider the good soil as an environment where people perform well. They’re solidly connected with their teams, have trusting relationships with others, are able to navigate difficult situations constructively and keep commitments to others. Their skill sets and capabilities are valued, and they have an opportunity to learn and grow.
Providing good soil for your team
As a leader, whether you get to select your own team members, or you assume responsibility for an already intact team, your role is to ensure that you establish an environment where your team members can grow.
Just like seeds, team members need nutrient-rich soil, water and sunlight to ignite their potential and transform from what they are now to what they can become. What they come to be is genetically determined by their unique capabilities and interests, and the environment in which they’re placed.
The soil provides a trusting environment for the seed to settle in and absorb water, which is a catalyst for growth. Similarly, helping team members consider and absorb different ideas and opinions, instead of experiencing them as conflict, helps them learn to work collaboratively and collectively.
The root continues to take in water, growing deeper into the soil and a small shoot peeks upward toward the sun. Team members who begin growing together through shared experiences and wins, establish a stronger commitment to accomplishing goals. Wins inspire more wins, and they support one another.
It’s easy to identify a team that is in a good environment for growth. The level of energy, exchange of ideas, supportive behaviors, and group celebrations of success are visible to others.
Invest in an environment for growth
Here are three key ways for leaders to invest in growth.
- Develop leadership skills – Learn the right skills yourself to effectively lead the team. Read books, take classes, participate in personality assessments, listen to 360 feedback, partner with other learning leaders and learn more about your functional area of expertise. Take action based on what you’re learning and never think that you’ve grasped it all.
- Advocate for the team – Periodically, your team will need resources to help them grow, and you will need to convince others in the organization to make a financial commitment. It might be travel to a client site to personally understand how to best support them. It might be training in new skills or technology. It might be the purchase of new equipment. It might be additional time off after an intense and time-consuming project. When they know you’re willing to go to bat for them, their trust and commitment to you will increase.
- Develop team members – As each team member grows, it strengthens the entire team. A network of people is only as strong as its weakest link. So, as you identify the weaknesses and strengths of each member, how can you help each understand their area of needed development and pair them up with another member who possesses strengths in that area? They will learn from each other and thereby support the entire team.
Think about the results you want from your team in the present moment and for your team that will enable them to flourish in the future. What steps are you taking to make that a reality? How are you establishing the right environment for growth?