(Reprinted with permission from The Customer Service Champions Blog)
One of my favorite chapters to write in The Journey to WOW was the one on the role of leadership. The analogy between leading a successful team and growing a successful crop puts a lot of things into perspective.
Here are the five principles of leadership from the Journey to WOW that every leader should embrace:
1. Plant the Right Seed
You can’t expect to harvest something when you haven’t first planted the right seed. If you plant carrots, don’t expect to be harvesting tomatoes. This speaks to the importance of how we as leaders communicate, set expectations and create conditions for success. As the character Avi points out in The Journey:
“All too often, people in leadership positions expect certain outcomes, or for people to behave in certain ways – but they haven’t first planted the seed for it. They don’t make any significant effort to either communicate their expectations or clear the path to facilitate a positive outcome.”
“The truly sad part is that, rather than recognize their own mistakes, most of these leaders just blame their team for the disappointing outcomes. It’s ridiculous that we do this, of course. It would be like me blaming the corn plant for not producing the right kind of corn. But one sees this far too often.”
The principle character Cameron adds, “Plant the right seed is also a lesson for making sure you hire the right people for the right roles in the first place.”
2. Help Things Grow
Things grow better when you help them. This highlights the importance of continual training, mentoring and coaching.
As Avi says: “People, like plants, want to grow. They want to become taller and stronger. They want to blossom. Some can do this on their own, some cannot. The greatest success and the greatest consistency is achieved when someone is there to ensure they are getting sufficient nourishment and that the conditions are in place for their success. You water your garden each day – sometimes twice – add nutrients to the soil, and so on.”
“Too often we expect our teams to grow and flourish, but we don’t provide them with the conditions they need to succeed – things such as good working conditions, adequate training or a meaningful support system.”
3. Always Track Progress
Avi: “How can we create consistency if we, the leaders, are not aware of what’s going on? How can we help our team raise the bar if we don’t know where the current bar is?” He goes on to explain the difference between tracking progress and micromanaging as a ‘delicate balance between being on top of things, and being in the middle of things.’
Avi uses the example of a time when he and his father each planted lettuce in their gardens. Avi hadn’t been vigilant in monitoring his.
“Sure enough,” he says, “when we got to my lettuce patch, I saw that much of it had been eaten, or partially eaten, by animals. My father told me that it was a family of rabbits that had started showing up a week ago. They had also helped themselves to the beets he had been growing. The difference, though, was that my father had noticed what they were doing after the first day, and had surrounded his beets with a small chicken-wire fence, just tall enough so the rabbits couldn’t get in.”
4. Don’t Allow Weeds to Grow
Weeds, in business, are the attitudes and behaviours of the people we have working for us. When they are negative, they will suck the nutrients out of a workplace – just as weeds do in a garden.
Avi points out that “Sometimes you can find yourself unable to convince someone to change to a more positive and productive mindset. And most times, in most companies, we just let these people be – and try to either rationalize or ignore their behaviour. But, just like weeds in a garden, if not removed, that person’s presence will have implications throughout the organization. You can’t let them take root. You have to address them immediately.”
The ‘You’re in or you’re out’ approach appears a bit heavy-handed, but Avi’s response is: “When it comes to how well we treat each other and our customers? Absolutely not.” He follows with the pointed question, “What do you do when you find a substandard part in one of the product you’re selling?”
5. Provide Sunshine
The final leadership lesson is to provide sunshine. “Plants,” Avi points out, “need abundant sunlight. Nothing grows without sunshine. They need the warmth and energy to grow and thrive.”
For a garden, of course, the sunlight comes from above. The analogy in business is clear. Our people need our energy, our inspiration, our motivation. “If we aren’t passionate – visibly and demonstrably passionate – we will never be able to instill this in our people. We can never lose sight of the role we ourselves play in the success of our organization.”