Great leaders are described with terms like “visionary”, “servant”, and “inspirational”. Those are all good descriptions, but I like to think of the best leaders as gifted gardeners.
I imagine the best leaders I know would be good at gardening. Why? A gifted gardener understands what each plan needs for the plant to grow and flourish. They know that what works well for one plant, won’t work well for another. They are consistent in their attention and love for their plants and in their expectations for performance. Yet, all plants are not treated the same as each plant gets what they uniquely need from the gardener.
I am far from being a master gardener. However, I have learned a few things from the mistakes I’ve made with plants. (If you are a master gardener, please forgive me for this high-level summary of your craft.) All plants need soil, sun and water, but balancing the right mixture of the three is what makes a plant not just grow, but flourish. The gardener knows which plants need sandy soil, silt or clay. They know which need direct sun, which need indirect sun, and which needs shade. The gardener knows how much water is needed for the plant. They know that, while water is essential, overwatering many plants can kill them.
Great leaders know their team members as individuals. They know what each person needs to grow in their skills, to be the best they can be and flourish. Isn’t that what you want from your leader? Isn’t that what your team wants from you?
Great leaders know that some on the team need encouragement on a regular basis, even daily. While they have amazing gifts, their self-confidence isn’t high, and your encouragement gives them the confidence they need to tackle the challenges they face.
Some team members need to be challenged as they thrive on competition, with themselves and with others. Others need the attention of their leader, the leader’s presence, because it affirms their self-worth. And there are others who need independence and the trust of their leader to be the most successful.
When a leader treats everyone the same, it simply never works. Why? Most members of the team won’t get what they need. As an example, the leader who wants to be present all the time, encouraging the team, may sound great to some. It might meet their need for affirmation and encouragement. Yet, for the team member who needs independence, it’s like the plant that gets “over watered,” and it will kill them.
If you want to be a great leader, get to know your team, just as Jesus knows us uniquely. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). When you know your unique team members, you will know what you need to do as a leader to help them flourish!
Dale Kreienkamp is the author of How Long, O Lord, How Long? Devotions for the Unemployed and Those Who Love Them. He is a Human Resources executive and consultant who has experienced a personal journey of unemployment twice when both positions were eliminated in organizational restructuring. These personal experiences created a desire within him to help others impacted by unemployment through inspirational devotions. Dale is also an active volunteer at his home church and leader in his local community.