Leadership Gardening – Developing Effective Leaders

In the last article on this subject, I wrote about the importance of selecting the right raw materials in terms of core leadership competence and also organisational fit. This time, I will cover how you can develop this raw talent into effective leaders.

Much has been written (primarily by a guy called Goleman) about the need for leaders to develop emotional intelligence. This is how the best leaders engage, inspire, drive, influence and support others in order for them to perform optimally. As Dwight Eisenhower said; “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want because he wants to do it”.

In recognising that we are all different, a great leader understands that the connection and style of approach required to achieve this optimal performance must be tailored to those individual needs; like a great gardener knowing that some plants respond well to tough conditions and a bit of “acid” whilst others require supporting stakes or a great deal of fertiliser!

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) according to Goleman is

  • Self Awareness – knowing ourselves and how we react sufficiently to recognise the impact of these reactions on ourselves and others
  • Self Management – the ability to control our emotions and impulses, adapting them to the circumstances
  • Social Awareness – the ability to sense, understand to how others may respond or react and the comprehension of social networks
  • Relationship Management – the ability to use this understanding to inspire, influence and develop others and manage conflict productively

So in terms of deciding what your leaders need in terms of development, you should be considering their EQ not their IQ first and foremost. These EQ requirements can be detailed through the development of behavioural competencies that align with your desired organisational culture and in this way you can start to observe and assess your leader’s capability against “how” they lead and so create a clear development plan to assist them.

In the same way as a gardener will constantly tend and train their seedlings, you must do the same with your leaders! Feed them with the necessities to be successful, this may be praise, resources, opportunities, ideas, access to information or simple support. Leadership training with some EQ component will help them develop and learn best practice but this must be supported by the manager ensuring that that learning gets translated into practical action at work. The best learning opportunities are often “on the job”.

As the gardener will regularly inspect their growing plants and measure their progress, you should do the same. Set your leaders challenging development goals with particular focus on their leadership behaviours, regularly check their performance by having regular one to one’s to discuss how this can be continually enhanced.

The investment of your time is crucial to the growth of an effective leader; you cannot just plant them in your business and expect success. You should weed them regularly, removing obstacles to their growth. The most crucial tool for you to have as the “gardener’ of these leaders, is the provision of regular feedback on what is going well and what could do with on-going focus. This should be supported by coaching (not telling!) them on how to get it right. If you find this hard, consider getting an external coach, but remember that as their manager they will be constantly observing you and copying your style and behaviours – if you are not a great leader, you will create the same in them, so make sure you are an exemplary role model!

Check constantly for “pests and infestations”; in leadership terms a poor attitude, poor judgement or the inability to create followers. Whilst a gardener will try to save a sickly plant, ultimately the plant may need to be pulled out and replaced rather than allow it to infect the surrounding ones. It is the same with leadership – this role is crucial to the success of the business and how willingly the team do the jobs required of them. Whilst good raw materials, on-going feedback and support should avoid most problems, ultimately a poor leader cannot be retained in the role because of the damage they can do.

If you would like any advice on selecting or developing leaders, or enhancing your own leadership capability, please call a member of the Grow HR team.