My wife and I recently updated the landscaping in front of our house.
We sketched a plan and then carefully selected bushes, flowers, and trees that grow well in the Georgia clay and full sun of our front yard. We dug holes, conditioned the soil, and placed each plant in its assigned position. The project was hard work, but the most difficult task is still ahead.
Though the new landscaping looks great now, its beauty would be short-lived without ongoing attention and care. For the plants to remain healthy, growing to their full potential, they need to be watered and pruned consistently. This is the most difficult task because it requires a consistent investment of time and effort long after the initial project has ended.
This landscaping project teaches an important lesson about how leaders can best serve their teams. Just as my wife and I must water and prune our new plants, effective leaders must consistently care for and invest in their people—both individually and as a team—to help them develop and grow. Leaders who have hired great talent, placed them in the proper roles, and communicated expectations, may be tempted to move on to other priorities, only periodically checking in with their teams; this is a mistake. Neglected teams will not be healthy enough to reach their full potential or generate sustained results over the long term.
Servant leaders must view investing in the health and growth of their people as a top priority. By doing so, they can ensure team members are as effective and fulfilled tomorrow as they are today. Take a minute to evaluate yourself in this area by considering the following questions:
How often do you spend time with each of your direct reports?
Time spent together is a great way to learn what is important to those you lead. It gives them a chance to share challenges and successes. Time together also allows you to share your experiences and model your values. Spending time with those you lead says, “I value you and I want to help you succeed.”
Where would each person you lead like to be a year from now?
People want to be known; the better you know your team, the more effective you can be at helping each individual be successful and fulfilled. If you don’t know the answer to this question, ask each person and then help them get where they want to go.
What purposeful stretch assignments have you given?
It is often said that the best development comes through stretch assignments. I agree. Once you have established specific development priorities with a team member, give him or her real responsibility for a project that will require growth to succeed.
How much time and money have you allocated for individual and team development?
Coaching, training, conferences, books, online courses, lunch with a mentor—all of these require time and money; they are all investments in future results. I have also found that focusing only on job or skill-specific development is limiting. Think about mixing in development experiences focused on leadership, innovation, creativity, the future of work, or anything else that ignites new ideas. If we as leaders choose not to allocate time and money for people to learn and grow, we should not be surprised if they don’t.
When was the last time you took your team away for a retreat?
I am huge fan of getting away. Off-site time almost always sparks new ideas, builds relationships, and provides the time and space needed for a team to develop in one or more focus areas. Whether your retreat is to be led by you or facilitated by a third party, establish several objectives, book a venue, and go.
So, how are you doing?
A team will not thrive on its own any more than a plant will thrive with no water and sun. Invest in your people personally and professionally; then enjoy watching them grow.